The sun has been out in Zurich lately which certainly doesn’t hurt given it seemed to be very far away during most of the summer. This obviously means that some classic car owners have extended the season, but it was still a very nice surprise to walk out of the office door last week and see… an Alfa Romeo Montreal! It certainly doesn’t happen often, and as can be seen below, it was also a Montreal in very nice condition.
To start with the not very Italian name, why on earth did Alfa name the Montreal after a town in Québec? The simple explanation is taht the Montreal was first shown at the world exhibition in 1967 in, you guessed it, Montreal, and Alfa apparently had no better name in mind than that. Production started three years later in 1970 and ended in 1977. The beautiful coupé was designed by our old friend Marcello Gandini at Bertone and the most striking feature is certainly the covers over the headlights that move back when you turn them on.
The second most noticeable feature of the Montreal is certainly what looks like air intakes for a mid-mounted engine. The Montreal however never had, and was never intended to have a mid-mounted engine, so what you first think are intakes for the engine is actually intakes to cool the passengers. It is true that at the time of the original design Alfa indeed had the idea of a mid-mounted engine, but when the project moved on, this was scrapped but the air intakes were kept and certainly help the design of the car!
Even if the engine is in the front, it’s clearly the highlight of the car. The four-cam, eight-cylinder engine had been developed for the Tipo 33 that Alfa had raced before it moved into the Montreal. At 2.6 litres it was quite small but still developed 200 hp, but did so using quite a lot of fuel which wasn’t ideal in the early 70’s, as we’ll come back to. As so often Alfa then ran into a bit of a money problem and therefore chose to use the chassis and brakes from the Giulia GT, meaning they were a bit under-dimensioned for the car given the powerful engine. In other words acceleration was better than braking, so staying up in front was a good idea!
The Montreal interior doesn’t reach the heights of some other Italian legends from Modena or Sant’Agata from the period, then again the Montreal was cheaper to buy and is still a nice place to be, and ties into the tradition of GT cars from the 70’s. Unfortunately all these also had in common that they drove straight into the 1973-1974 oil crisis, which in the case of Montreal certainly didn’t help the sales numbers. In the seven years of production, only around 4.000 cars were therefore built.
They were however built with surprisingly good protection against corrosion, which wasn’t a typical feature of Alfa for the period but which means that Finding a nice Montreal today isn’t that difficult. As in so many cases, buying one of those five-six years ago had been far cheaper than today with nice cars now trading around EUR 60-80.000. Although it’s easy to love the design and even more so with a V8 under the hood, at that price level there a bit too many interesting competitors for me to be swayed by the Canadian Alfa!
You may have seen that Lamborghini has re-introduced the Countach. Yes, you read that right, the most legendary of all sports cars of the 80’s – scrap that, of all times! The one a fair number of us born in the early 70’s with a head full of petrol dreamt about and put a poster of on our bedroom wall, next to Samantha Fox, Sabrina or Miami Vice. Just hearing the news, I imagine I wasn’t the only one filled with not just a little excitement. It didn’t last long though. The fall back to reality was heavy a few moments later as I learnt more about the new car.
You see, what Lambo dares calling the new Countach, under the official name LPI 800-4, has precious little to do with Marcelo Gandini’s jawdropping design from back then – nor is it a modern interpretation of the same theme. Nope, visually the new Countach is nothing more than a relatively modestly re-designed Aventador with some clumsy Countach references, of which 112 will be built (that’s good as it reduces the risk of being disappointed seeing it “live”). They’re of course extremely expensive (price not known at this point but probably around USD 3m), atrociously fast with 814 hp leading to a 0-100 time of below 3 seconds, naturally hybrid with a small electric engine making up 45 of those 814 hp, supporting the V12 and, it goes without saying, all sold, presumably to buyers of which a majority will park them in a garage and never drive them. Disappointed? Me?
That is however all I’ll say about the new Countach and I also promise not to make this a long rant about how much modern supercars lack the heart and soul of the true legends. Instead we’ll do something much more fun: we’ll travel back to our younger years when our jeans were stone-washed, our socks white and our shoulders impossibly wide. For a few minutes, we’ll return to that poster on the bedroom wall (no, not Samantha) and have a good look at the original, REAL Countach! Interestingly, doing so also involves coming back to some legendary Italian car builders that have been featured on this blog earlier and only serve to highlight the true legend that the original Countach is.
The story begins in the early 70’s with Bertone being commissioned by Lamborghini to come up with a replacement for the Miura, which had only been on sale for a few years but already faced strong competition from the new Ferrari Daytona, introduced in 1969. Marcello Gandini, lead designer at Bertone, had a few years earlier started to experiment with a new design language as notably shown in the Lancia Stratos: a much more wedge-like, angular shape, and he took on the new Lambo project in the same spirit while the engineers were working on the engine. It was clear that the new car would remain rear-wheel drive with a rear-mid 12-cylinder engine as on the Miura, but for weight distribution along with some mechanical reasons, not transversally mounted as on the latter.
The name Countach has always been a bit of a riddle and is a story in itself. Countach doesn’t mean anything in Italian and is also not following Lambo’s tradition of naming cars after bulls or bullfights. The story goes that one of the mechanics in the Sant’Agata factory only spoke Piedmontese, a regional language closer to French than to Italian in which there is the word “contacc”, an expression showing astonishment. The unnamed mechanic used it quite frequently when working on the car and Marcello Gandini therefore half jokingly sugested it as a possible name to Bob Wallace, Lambo test driver at the time, who confirmed it worked in English with a minor adaptation. The most spectacular supercar of all times was thus named on the factory floor and not in a board room! The first prototype was presented to the public at the Paris Auto Show in 1971 with sales starting three years later in 1974. They wouldn’t stop until 16 years later, in 1990.
Next to the long production time itself, it’s impressive how well the new design held up (and still holds up if you’re lucky to see one!). If you remove the increasing amount of spoilers and skirts that were added over the years, the basic design of the car remained unchanged throughout the 16 years of production. I guess I wasn’t the only one who in my youth found things like the giant spoiler on some later cars ultra-cool, but looking back with (slightly) more mature eyes today, it’s pretty clear the the first iteration was the cleanest and best-looking. I’m not sure beautiful is the right word, but spectacular definitely is. The wedge shape, the side air intakes, the forward movement created by the cutting of the rear wheelarches – and of course the scissor doors. The doors did not only come about for show though, as given how wide the Countach is and especially how massive its doorsills are, fitting conventional doors would have been both unpractical and complicated. Owners of later Countaches with the dome on the engine are especially thankful for that given for them, sitting on the doorsill with the door open and turning your head backwards is the only way to have any kind of rear-view visibility. If the Countach was wide (almost 2 metres) with poor rear visibility, it certainly wasn’t long. At 4.15 metres it’s far smaller than you would imagine, and actually shorter than a Lotus Evora!
If the design was spectacular, the engine was of course not less so. The V12 came from the Miura and as shown in the first picture, had its origins back in 1963, having been designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, whom you can read an earlier post of here. Also as mentioned it was longitudinally mounted such as to improve notably weight distribution and solve some other issues, with the 5-speed manual transmission being placed in front of the engine. The initial Countach LP-400 had the same 3.9 litre volume as the Miura, with a power output of 375 hp. It was later increased first to 4.7 litres in the LP5000S in 1982, and then 5 litres in the LP5000 QV (Quattrovalvole, four valves per cylinder) version from 1985 with 440 hp. It’s noticeable that until the end in 1990, the engine retained carburettors when everyone else had switched to fuel injection (for emission reasons the Countaches going to the US had to be injected). Having originally been side-mounted, the carburettors moved to the top of the engine on later cars, explaining the dome over the engine. This wonderful machine would outlive the Countach over the Diablo all the way to the Murcielago, meaning a production time of almost 50 years! Contrary to what you would maybe think, it also has a reputation of not being very primadonna-like, but rather very reliable.
Except for in my dreams I’ve never been in a Countach, much less driven one, but this is very high on the bucket list (you wouldn’t happen to own one, would you?). I have however peaked in to several of them and as anyone who does so, you may not realize that the window you look through only opens 5cm or so, but definitely that the money had run out before the time had come to design the interior. Not that it’s worse than on many other 80’s cars but the grand plans Lambo had for notably digital instruments never materialized and the interior is thus very conventional compared to the spectacular body. The seats are however a wonder of comfort compared to modern bucket seats, but they can only be adjusted in length. If you’re taller than 180 cm you should also be prepared to have contact with the roof lining (here, the later cars helped, giving another 3cm of head space in the “high” versions). And when it comes to driving, taking it from multiple reviews, it’s all hard work with an unassisted steering, a heavy clutch (those six carburettors are partly to be thanked for that, but you can’t have it all!) and a general experience of needing to work hard to get the most out of the car. Then again, isn’t that the way it should be in a true supercar?
Production of the Countach came to an end in 1990, with the 25th anniversary edition introduced in 1988 with a certain Horacio Pagani (on whom you can read more here) being responsible for a lot of the restyling. The final iteration wasn’t loved by everyone given it departed from some of the most classical design features on previous Countaches and had a bit too many skirts, even for the late 80’s. It was however the fastest version of the Countach, capable of a top speed of 295 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds. Remember this is 30 years ago on a car that was equipped by 345 mm rear tires, however only 15″ in wheel size! At the time, those were the biggest tires on the market.
The Anniversary edition was also the most popular version in production numbers, built 657 times and thus making up a third of the total production of around 1970 Countachs ever built. That’s right, the most legendary supercar of all times was built less than 2.000 times, to be compared for example with the over 7.000 Testarossas (not counting the 512’s). Not only that, a third of all Countaches were sold when it had already been on the market for 14 years! Another third was made up of the Quattrovalvole version (610 cars), thus leaving just a third of the early Countachs. Good luck finding one of those today… The easiest one to find today is the QV with prices starting around EUR 300′, with real jewels going for up to EUR 700′. That’s a lot of money, and a lot more than you would have paid ten years ago. Having said that, it’s still a couple of million less that you would pay for the new 2022 version if you were on the list of the selected 112 owners, and seen in that light, probably one of the greatest bargains out there! Junior may have more power and features, but in the Countach world, there’s no doubt that Daddy still rules big time!
As we all know time flies and it’s already a year since I bought my 650i convertible that I told you about in a post at the time, that you can view here if you missed it. It’s in other words time to make a brief pit stop to tell you how the first year has been, what the suprises, if any, have been and perhaps also if my initial statement from a year ago on the 650i being pretty sensational value for money still holds true. Given this is not a thriller movie I’ll allow myself to take that last piece of excitement away right here: the 650i is for all intents an purposes a bargain as has been confirmed many times over the last 12 months!
Given it’s a converible, the big Bavarian of course didn’t move in in the right season, but I managed to have some really nice drives during Sept-Oct last year before it got cold and wet and it was time to park it for the winter. You’ll tell me that given the four-wheel drive, the thickness of the hood and the quality of a BMW there was really little reason for this and you’d be right, except that as it happens we have a family SUV as well and if I don’t use it during the winter, when should I then use it… Also, the condition of the 650i being as good as it is, I would feel physically bad if I drove it on salty roads. So for the 4-5 months between November and March, the only thing that happened were a few drives long enough to get the engine warm and make sure the tires stay round.
Spring came and was nice and it was then time to put the car a bit more to the test. As I noted in my last post, the 650 is much more of a GT than a sports car, also given its length of almost five meters and its weight of around two tons. Given that it’s pretty amazing how BMW managed to create an interior space that is so limited. There are absolutely no complaints up front where supreme comfort reigns, and sure, the back seats work for adults for shorter trips, but I wouldn’t take the kids for more than a couple of hours given how cramped the seats are. Then again I was well aware of that and the intention is to use the car for two. No doubt the long body adds a bit of elegance and I guess the point of a large convertible is also that you can be allowed to be a bit wasteful with space, even if it doesn’t make much sense. At least the boot is suprisingly large (even more so when the roof is up) which is definitely a plus in this family!
There are A LOT of positives I’ve noted during my first 12 months of owning the 650i so in order not to bore you, let me just focus on some of the main ones. The first thing I noticed was how precise and well weighted the steering was, especially in the sports setting. The comparison that jumped to mind was my previous E63 AMG, but I would say the 650i is marginally better, and the wheel is in BMW manner definitely thicker, but not too much so. Secondly, I was positively suprised that behind the elegant appearance lures quite a hooligan. Hit that Sport button and floor it in a tunnel, and if the roof is up, lower the back window (yes you can, and thank you very much whoever thought of that!), and if the resulting roar, pops and other guttural sounds don’t put a smile on your face, then do indeed buy an EV. The 450 hp double-turbo V8 delivers just the right amount of power and the double-clutch gearshift is so smooth you don’t even notice it.
Thirdly, the suspension is superb and I’ll tie this to the overall quality of the build which is absolutely amazing. Take the roof off a car means removing a lot of the inherent rigidity of the body, usually leading to the odd squeek here and there. Not so in the 650i, which remains as silent as a Bavarian forest. I made a point on this in my initial post, namely the logic of buying a heavily depreciated luxury car rather than a less depreciated middle class one, as so much more effort has been invested in the original build. Finally, at least for a middle-aged man, the level of infotainment is exactly right. BMW’s solution from 2013-2014 was pretty much on the edge of what was done then, and it works absolutely fine to this day with nice physical buttons to press rather than a flimsy screen with fatty marks where you desperately try to aim for a word in the upper corner.
What I don’t like? To be honest not a lot, but then again the initial brief was quite clear and didn’t leave room for mant surprises. What you definitely need to be aware of is that it’s a big car, which is to your advantage for the long trips on open roads but obviously less so in tight cities or garages. There are of course cameras and warning sounds all around, but you do need to be careful especially towards the front where the sloping hood is very difficult to estimate. In the section of minor complaints I would also question BMW’s decision in a convertible to only put a lock on the compartment under the center armrest but not on the glovebox, that you can thus not lock if you park the car with the hood down? That’s probably it though, and it sure isn’t a lot. Most importantly I haven’t had a single issue with the car so far, and now that the one year warranty has run out, I do hope that remains the case!
In the small segment of unpractical four-seat convertibles, the 650i thus shines as much now as it did 12 months ago. I love it and plan to keep it for a long time. It’s also nice to see that prices seem to have bottomed out, with cars currently being in the market being a few thousand more than what I paid. That confirms the saying that luxury cars fall like stones until they don’t do so anymore, and that seems to be the case for the 650i. If it corresponds to your brief and needs, I can thus only recommend that you join the club!
There haven’t been many outstanding street finds in Zurich lately, which hopefully means the owners have taken the really nice cars on a trips to sunnier locations than Switzerland has offered this summer. In such situations it helps having a son who last week happened to be in another city that is a rolling car Mecca, namely Monaco. He drove there with his friends from Nice in the morning, texted me in the first hour that there were more Brabuses on the streets than regular Merc’s, and then once they made it up to the Casino square, he sent me the top two pictures below.
The reason he didn’t send more was that the police came and told him it’s no longer allowed to photograph cars outside of the Hôtel de Paris, next to the Casino. Given this has been the favourite past-time of any car lover who’s ever been in Monaco for as long as anyone can remember and that car owners certainly didn’t mind, this is indeed very strange. Then again it’s still mandatory in Monaco to wear face masks everywhere, including outside, so Covid seems to have left some traces that this is maybe a consequence of. Leaving that aside however, the picture brings about the interesting question: which one of these highly competent but also highly collectable supercars would you go for, if you were fortunate enough to have the choice?
The SLR not only precedes the SLS by a letter but also by seven years as it was introduced in 2003 as its direct predecessor. It was built until 2009 by McLaren in Woking, having been developed jointly by the two manufacturers. The production was limited to 3500 cars but in the end only 2157 were built and of these, around 25% were roadsters. The engine was developed by AMG and was a compressor-charged V8 mounted behind the front axle and producing 626 hp in the first version until 2006, and 650 hp in the so called 722 update available from 2006 onwards (722 being Stirling Moss’s start number back in the day in the Mille Miglia race with the car the SLR takes its inspiration from, the original 300 SLR). Both SLR versions have a top speed of over 330 km/h which is truly sensational for a 15-year old car, and are paired to Mercedes’s 5-speed automatic from the time, which is far less sensational and probably the biggest drawback with the whole car, simply being too slow for a true supercar.
The SLR is to me a beautiful creation, a combination of an original and aggressive design and a slightly “old school” supercar construction, unfortunately with an interior that is not at all as spectacular as the exterior. Today these beauties cost from EUR 250.000 upwards for the coupé and from EUR 350.000 for the roadster as shown on the piture, with the 722 coupé as well as really low-mileage cars being more expensive and the 722 roadster, of which only 150 were built, far higher, if you can find one. There is currently one for sale in Switzerland at CHF 850.000.
The SLS was introduced the same year production of the SLR ended in 2009 and around 5.000 cars were built over the coming five years until 2014. Its official name is Mercedes-Benz SLS 63 AMG but even if AMG comes at the end, this was the first car that was completely developed by the company, although the car was put together at Mercedes in Sindelfingen. The engines were of course hand-built in Affalterbach. The SLS had true gullwing doors rather than the butterfly doors of the SLR, by far the most distinctive characteristic of the car (the roadster version obviouysly has conventional doors). Another far more important difference to the SLR is the SLS’s naturally-aspirated V8, the legendary 6.2 litre AMG engine developing 571 hp initally, 20 hp more in the GT versions from 2012, and 631 hp in the Black Series version in 2013. It also had a more modern, 7-speed, double-clutch speedshift box in all versions.
Finding an SLS is both easier and cheaper than finding an SLR. Both the first version and the GT start at or even slightly below EUR 200.000, going up to around EUR 250.000 for low-mileage cars. The Black Series is a different story, starting at twice that price and going all the way up towards EUR 700.000.
So to come back to the initial question, which one would you choose? If you’re in the market for these cars then the initial price difference is probably not decisive. Design-wise my vote goes to the SLR (just look at it!). It brings much more drama than the more restrained SLS, but clearly both cars are beautiful creations. Engine-wise however, a 6.2 litre, naturally aspirated AMG V8 will always beat a supercharged engine if you ask me, especially when it’s paired to a much better gearbox. Finally, if reason is to play any role at all here, whereas the SLR will be truly horrendously expensive to maintain, the SLS will just be very expensive.
Both these cars are true collectables but they are also and above all, true driving machines. If you’re lucky enough to consider either one of them, please don’t just park them in front of a nice hotel for others to see, even if they’re not allowed to take pictures of them anymore!
When you speak to fans of the French automaker Citroën (something which unfortunately happens less and less often as most of the true enthusiasts are getting old!), one of the most sensitive topics is no doubt which model of the legendary brand constitutes the last real Citroën. To a real “citroënniste”, nothing in today’s line-up is even close to fitting the bill. Some say it all ended with the legendary DS that I wrote about a while ago (see here). Others are more progressive and would draw the line at the 90’s XM, a strange, space-ship like creation and certainly a true Citroën in terms of quirkiness, but to me a car that lacked both looks and innovation. I’m rather in the camp in between the two. To me, the last real Citroën is the CX launched in 1974, notably as it was the last Citroën designed and developed before Citroën was bought by Peugeot and became a part of the PSA group the same year. Next to that however, the CX can be described as the every day version of the SM that I wrote about in January (see here), but also taking the best of the DS and modernizing the rest in a packaging that was truly Citroën. It thus forms the last chapter in the trilogy of the DS-SM-CX, reason why we’ll look closer at it this week!
It’s never easy to succeed a true legend and with very few exceptions, there’s really no greater legends than the DS and SM. The CX however did a great job, being built during 15 years until 1989 (the estate all the way to 1991) and selling more than 1.1 million times. Given that it’s surprising how few have survived until today, something that also goes for its two predecessors. Then again, quality is not the first word you think about when talking about cars from the 70’s and it didn’t prevent people from being amazed when the CX was first shown to the world in 1974. The name makes reference to the wind resistance coefficient in French which for the CX was 0.37, not as good as the SM but still much better than most cars at the time.
When the development of the CX started in 1969 as an “inofficial” successor to the DS, a clear objective was to make the car easier and thereby cheaper to build than its complicated predecessor. That goal was achieved in a Citroën kind of way, meaning that everything except the bodyparts was fixed onto the chassis, with the body being screwed onto it at the very end of the production process and fixed with six rubber-metal fixings. No one but Citroën would probably think of this construction as a good way to save costs, but it worked well in terms of rigidity and also in isolating passengers from vibrations. Here, the legendary hydro-pneumatic suspension that the CX inherited from the DS was obviously a great help as well.
Another arbuably less glamorous thing the CX inherited from its predecessor was the engine. Not that Citroën didn’t have grand plans here as well. The original idea was to fit the car with a Wankel engine which with a planned 170 hp would have given the car sportscar like performance, and also suited it well given the Wankel construction’s lack of vibrations. That plan had to be scrapped for cost reasons though and instead, the CX inherited the 2-litre and 2.2-litre engines from the DS, developing 102 and 112 hp respectively, a bit later complemented by a diesel with 66 tired horses. These engines helped sell more than 100.000 CX’s in the first year of production, more than the DS had sold in any year but one. In 1975 Citroën also introduced the CX station wagon, a 25cm longer version of the car with a cavernous luggage space in the back. It was that same extended chassis that would also be used for the Prestige model that appeared shortly thereafter but where the extra 25cm instead benefitted the back seat passengers, making it a favourite car for many heads of state. Interestingly though, it wouldn’t be so for the French president until Jacques Chirac in 1995, when the CX was no longer manufactured.
If the CX was a revelation on the outside, it was no less so once you entered it. Once you’ve taken place in the extremely soft seats, you look out over, or rather through the one-spoke steering wheel at something which at first looks like a bathroom scale, but is in fact the speedomoter and rev counter. You then notice the lack of levers on the sides of the wheel, as the CX instead had two satellites with all necessary functions that you are supposed to operate with your left and right hand finger tips. The right satellite includes the horn, but any need for it will probably have passed by the time you find the right switch. The turn signal on the left is no less surprising since you have to actively turn it off – it doesn’t reset automatically when you straighten the steering wheel. Better? Not really. Different? Bien sûr! And by the way, if you think the CX is a hatchback, think again. In fact the concave and thereby self-cleaning rear window doesn’t open, meaning it has a traditional boot below it which is quite low and small. This was one example of the CX’s success becoming its enemy: it was well known that CX owners wanted Citroën to make the car a hatchback, something that could easily have been done, but the responsible people at PSA just looked at the strong sales numbers, shrug their shoulders and put that budget somehwere else in the large group.
The first series of the CX was built until 1984 and luckily the strong sales numbers didn’t prevent PSA from improving the engines on offer with more powerful versions. The 138 hp GTI was introduced in 1983 and the most powerful CX in the line-up, the 2.5 litre turbo developing 168 hp came a year later. The turbo had an impressive top speed of 220 km/h, of course thanks to the excellent aerodynamics. When the second series was presented in 1985 the most notable difference were the plastic front and rear bumpers which replaced the previous metal ones and helped further lower wind resistance to a quite astonishing 0.28, in line with the SM. A turbo was now fitted also to the diesel engines but the most powerful version remained the petrol 25 GTI Turbo II, the “II” coming from it now having an intercooler. The interior of the second series was modernized and for the Turbo II even quite sporty with red piping on the seats and dash in some countries, but not necessarily more logical. As an example the radio was moved from the dashboard to down between the seats, next to the handbrake. Changing radio station had just become something you needed to look away from the road for a couple of seconds to do…
If the above all sounds irrestistible and owning the – perhaps – last real Citroën is something you cannot go through life without having done, the good news is that the CX remains and under-apprecitated car to this day. It’s not easy to find a good one but when you do, it will still be cheap – we’re usually talking EUR 15-20.000. That means it’s much cheaper than either a good DS or a good SM, and much cheaper to own, while still giving you a good piece of the real Citroën experience! The second series looks more modern but the first has all the coolness of the original car, and the metal bumpers resist sunlight better than the 80’s plastic. Most CX’s were sold as manual which was a good thing. It’s also good to know that cars after 1981 have better rust protection, a big issue with earlier cars. As someone who grew up in the 80’s, the thought of a Turbo II is hard to resist. Objectively though, the best one to go for would probably be a late first series GTI – less prone to issues than the turbo, and with all of the Citroën genius intact!
The Porsche 911 is no doubt the most successful sports car of all time. However, it’s also a car which Porsche tried to kill off around 911 times before it earned the unshakable position it has today. The first try dates all the way back to the mid-70’s when the idea was that the newly developed 928 would take over from the ageing 911. As we all know it didn’t work at the time and it’s never worked since. Today we’re glad that Porsche failed and be that as it may, the 928 became a great complement to the 911 when it was launched and today remains one of very few old Porsche’s that is both a great car and something you could (with a bit of a stretch) still call a bargain. That’s more than enough reasons to look closer at it this week!
Although I don’t like discussing design since it’s a matter of personal taste, I think most of us would agree that design-wise, the 70’s weren’t a happy period. The world was brown and orange and most cars looked like they’d been drawn with a ruler by someone loving 90-degree angles. When it was launched in 1977, the 928 was therefore a true revolution design-wise with the long hood and the “reversed” pop-up headlights, earning it the nickname “landshark” in some countries, and the rounded rear with integrated shock absorbers. It would be exaggerated claiming that it could just as well have been designed today, but it’s to my mind the car design from the 70’s that has best stood the test of time. This was also proven by the production which ran until 1995 with the main parts of the car’s design remaining pretty much unchanged until the end.
Having said that it’s difficult to see how Porsche actually thought that fans of the air-cooled, rear-engine 911 would ever consider the 928 as a replacement. Firstly it was obviously a larger car, even if it’s better described as a 2+2 seater than a real 4-seater. Secondly it has quite a large boot, meaning the engine was up front. Thirdly, that engine was a newly developed, water-cooled V8 rather than a legendary, air-cooled six-cylinder. Finally all this led to a heavier car, much more at home on the Autobahn than being thrown around curvy mountain roads. To this day, the 928 is a true motorway cruiser that sits nicely alongside a 911 from the time, although it never saw its success its smaller brother did.
Even though the 928 was heavier, Porsche were very focused on keeping its weight down. The doors, front aisles and hood are all made out of aluminium and the front and rear bumpers were as mentioned made in composite material (arouna metal core). The original, 4.5 litre V8 with 240 hp was at the time the second most powerful engine from Zuffenhausen, losing out only to the 911 Turbo, and the 928 was thus well motorized from the beginning. It was available with either a 5-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic from Mercedes (later a 4-speed) from the start, mounted on the rear axle and thus contributing to the excellent balance. The 928 was generally an advanced construction with notably double wishbone suspension all around and Porsche’s so called “Weissach axle” in the back of which I’ll spare you the technicalities but which can be described as a system for greater stability and less oversteer. That system was certainly never fitted to the 911’s of the time, and even 911 fans would probably agree that the 928 was in many areas far ahead of not only it, but of most other cars at the time as well.
The first series was built between 1977-1982, with the 300 hp 928S launched as a more powerful version in 1980 (and a couple of years later becoming the only version available). The S managed the sprint to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds, a very respectable time in the early 80’s. It was also the car Porsche ran for 24 hours non-stop on the Nardo track in Italy, achieving an average speed of 250 km/h! Think of that a minute – we’re talking 24 hours with the pedal to the metal at top speed, back in the fully mechanical age! Porsche kept improving the S interior- and equipment-wise, but also technically with notably ABS breaking before it was replaced by the 928 S4 in 1987.
The S4 was the first car with the face-lifted body, best visible in the rear through the new lights and the standard-fitted wing. Engine-wise it went form 2 to 4 valves and hereby to an output of 320 hp. The 0-100 km/h time was now sub-six seconds with a top speed of 270 km/h. The even sportier GT was introduced in 1989, adding another 10hp and only being available as five-speed manual. Both versions were replaced by the 350 hp GTS in 1992, produced until 1995 and actually Porsche’s last GT car until the Panamera 15 years later. Over 15 years of production a bit more than 62.000 cars were built. Not a huge but still quite a large number, and in that sense it’s surprising how few of them you see on the roads today.
Unless you’re not a die-hard, nothing-but-911 kind of person, a 928 will deliver the true Porsche feeling from behind the wheel. The engine is like a solid companion at all speeds, especially in combination with the manual box. The suspension is superb given the car’s age, but It’s clear from the first meters you drive that although smaller than modern cars and in spite of all the Porsche attributes, this is a true GT that is most at home on long distances with two (or 2+2) passengers and surprisingly, quite a lot of their luggage!
When writing about classics I usually add a sentence along the lines of “make sure you check the history and the condition”. Never ever has that sentence been more true than if you consider a 928. As mentioned, the car is a complex construction. Parts have always been expensive and haven’t become less so today, only in some cases harder to find. The engine and gearbox are of course the most critical parts and inspecting the car from underneath before the purhcase is mandatory. If you’re unsure about what you’re looking for, get a specialist to help you or take it to a Porsche garage. Trust me on this but also know that even if you go through all the checks, you shouldn’t buy a 928 with your last money, but rather keep a reserve for things that may come up.
So which one? Well, no surprise that a manual is preferrable, but the automatic is actually not as catastrophic as you may think, so potentially try it if the rest of the car is good. Design-wise it’s a matter of taste between the first and second generation, but be aware that the 2-valve engine is easier (and thereby cheaper) to service than the 4-valve from the S4 onwards. If that doesn’t scare you, the 928 GT of which only around 2000 were built is especially interesting. Otherwise, the 300 hp second series is also a good choice. Please don’t go for the Strosek or Gemballa 80’s versions with massive plastic wings but rather try to find a car that is as original as possible. For the first series, both the phone dial wheels and the pepita interior you can see higher up are sought after today.
A good first series 928 will set you back around EUR 25-35.000, probably around 50% more than 10 years ago (but you’ve hopefully gotten richer in those 10 years as well!). The second series will typically cost around EUR 10.000 more with the GT and GTS potentially even more for low-mileage cars. High kilometres need not be a problem though, if the car has a solid and well documented history – but only then. In terms of value for money, this means that you still get one of the best GT’s ever built for less than half of a classic 911. That my friends not only makes this a bargain among Porsche classics, it does so among classic GT cars in general as well!
Will our automotive future be completely electric? The political will of making it so is certainly there and although a number of questions haven’t been answered (where all the electricity in the Western world is supposed to come from if at the same time we close down base-power providing nuclear energy is one, what to do with all the millions of existing cars is another) at least right now, the signs all point in one direction. Reinforcing that is clearly also the important advances that are made in battery technology, examplified by the brand new Mercedes EQS that has a real life range of 700 km. And although e-fuels such as the solutions Porsche is exploring off Chile’s coast (see here a recent post on it) could present an alternative for making combustion engines “clean” and thus part of the future, they are still far from mass production.
Whatever direction the world takes, it’s clear that downsizing is here to stay. All new combustion engines we see from here on will be smaller, supercharged versions of their predecessors. No one in their right mind would today build a new 10 or 12-cylinder naturally aspirated engine, and thus the large cylinder engines we have on the road today will be the last of their kind. If a big, naturally aspirated engine is your thing (and if you read this blog, I guess there’s a good probability of that!), it’s probably time to act and make that old dream of owning a naturally aspirated 10 or 12-cylinder car come true!
To help you on the way I’ve therefore taken the liberty of selecting three candidates in the price categories up to 30′ EUR, from 30-50′ EUR, and up to 100′ EUR. My logic doing so has been that they should be at least 10 years old such as to be out of the depreciation “J-curve”, and also have no more than 100.000 km on the clock. engine should be a 10- or 12-cylinder naturally aspirated one, sporty in nature and together with the car it’s fitted in, also have the potential for some value appreciation over the coming years. Doing this has been a fun exercise that I can recommend, You could of course have picked different cars across the three price segments, but here is what I came up with!
Up to 30′ EUR – BMW M5 E60/61
You can now find nice E60 sedans for as little as 30′ EUR, which is a true bargain in view of what the car and its fabulous engine offers. The latter, a 10-cylinder, 40-valve, 5 litre naturally aspirated engine developing 507 hp was also used as basis for the M6 of the E63 generation and was BMW’s only 10-cylinder engine. In the M5 it was coupled with an early 7-speed SMG box (i.e. single-clutch, automatic manual) that won’t shoot the lights out today but does the job. There was even a manual version which was however only sold in the US. That’s a shame, then again rumour has it that even the manual isn’t that great. Another rumour also has it that you need a bit more than the initial 30′ EUR as the 10-cylinder isn’t the most reliable engine, certainly a reason for being thorough when selecting the car. The E60 was built between 2005-2010 with a face lift in the first half of 2007, to a total of around 20.000 cars, making it the most popular M5 series.
Interestingly the E60 is so far the only M5 that has been offered as an estate/combi. From 2007 around 1.000 M5 Tourings were built and these are today even more desirable than the sedan. They are however also more expensive at around 50′ EUR, so that would move you to the next price class. In both cases, this generation of the M5 is a great car and the 10-cylinder engine one of the true legends of the naturally-aspirated world!
Between 30′ and 50′ EUR – Dodge Viper RT/10
The Viper is quite a rare car in Europe and in many ways a true American muscle car with a massive, 8-litre 10-cylinder engine developing 408 hp (394 hp in Europe) and an even more impressive torque of 664 Nm! It was hereby an odd bird in Europe from the start and is so even more today. It was built during 15 years between 1992-2007 and later cars also had other engines, but the RT/10 is the first generation which was in production until 2002.
The Viper and especially the first generation was really a car built around the engine, meant as a modern day Cobra. That’s to say that a very minor part of the budget was spent on things like the interior, which is basic, to put it mildly. Other standard items in other cars such as door windows, door handles and airbags were also not prioritized. You have to reach inside the door to open it and the door windows were delivered in a separate bag, to be stuck into the door if you wanted them. Not many did. The Viper also doesn’t have any kind of driving aids, so in many ways it is indeed a true muscle car, something that becomes very clear when you turn the key and are greeted by the sound of the giant engine. Any thoughts on the crappy interior will vanish quickly and as long as you’re slightly careful with applying the power, you’re set to enjoy every meter in this American legend!
Up to 100′ EUR – Ferrari F550 / F575
Long-term readers of this blog may remember my post on the F550 from back in 2015. I speculated then that it may start appreciating soon which so far hasn’t happened. Depreciation has however stopped and prices have been stable ever since, meaning you can get a fabulous, mechanical 12-cylinder Ferrari for a bit less than EUR 100′. That is as much a bargain today as in 2015 and I’ll stick my head out again and say prices may well be starting to climb soon. I’ll ask you to go back to the 2015 post for full details on the car, but at its heart is the fantastic, 5.5 litre 12-cylinder engine producing around 485 hp, which is paired to a six-speed manual box (the F575 had a slightly bigger and more powerful engine). I wouldn’t bother with the F575 as the very limited facelift and increased power don’t warrant it, especially since most F575’s came with one of those semi-automatic boxes. A good F550 with a full history is a buy you will never regret!
There you go – three budgets, three cars. Grab them now and enjoy them while you can, and I promise you won’t regret it. And if Porsche or someone else is successful with an alternative fuel solution that allows our combustion cars to stay on the road, you’ll definitely be a long time winner!
it’s time to leave the world of over-powered and over-priced SUV’s and return to a more traditional, and dare I say classy thrill of driving, which after all is what this blog is all about. We’ll do so by going back to a theme that I explored almost two years ago in a post entitled “The best Ferrari is a Maserati”. The reference here was the Maserati Coupé from the early 00’s, equipped with the brilliant 4.2 litre, Ferrari V8. The coupé is however not the only way to profit from a Ferrari engine in a car of a different – and usually cheaper – brand. Another example of that was the breathtakingly beautifful Fiat Dino Coupe from the mid-60’s, one of the highlights of that decade and a car we’ll look closer at today!
It’s the early 60’s, the Vietnam war rages, the mini skirt is the latest fashion and Americans are told smoking is dangerous through warning labels on cigarette packages (Europe wouldn’t get these for another few years). Our American friends however also had the Mustang whereas in Europe the English drive Minis and the French the eternal 2CV and the clever but not very beautiful Renault 4. Design-wise therefore, you had to go to Italy to find the true masterpieces (yep, some things don’t change!), and south of the Alps, Fiat is planning for an upmarket GT coupé and convertible, without having a suitable engine to power it.
Further east in Maranello, Ferrari’s world is a little less rosy. Enzo is still deploring the loss of his son Alfredo (“Dino”) in 1956, only 24 years old. Dino was credited with the development of the Ferrari 2-litre V6 engine that over a few years had been used in various racing cars. Ferrari now needs precisely this kind of engine, i.e. no more than 2 litres and 6 cylinders for its Formula 2 cars, but the engine needs to be homologated through serial production of at least 500 units. At the time this was too much for a small manufacturer like Ferrari and it was therefore agreed with Fiat that they would build the homologated engine and also be free to use it in future Fiat cars. Contrary to what Enzo Ferrari had wanted, Fiat insisted on the engine being built in its Turin factory and not in Maranello, meaning that the Dino engines in cars like the Ferrari Dino 206 and 246 will have the Fiat logo casted somewhere on the motor block. Fiat now also gives the green light to Bertone to design the coupé and to Pininfarina to design the convertible. This was of course not very logical and led to the two cars looking rather different with most people (including me) agreeing that Bertone did a better job – judge for yourself. The convertible was introduced in 1966 and the coupé a few months later, in 1967.
The Dino engine was indeed quite special. A 2-litre V6 with an alloy block, it’s most famous for its unusual, 65 degree angle but also features quad cams and triple Weber carburettors, bringing the output to 158 hp (and also the need for a specialist to make sure those Webers are aligned as they should be!). The face-lifted engine that came in 1969 when homologation was no longer an issue was increased to 2.4 litres and was the world’s first serial engine with electronic injection. Power increased to 180 hp with notably improved torque, and all this was fitted in a magnificent coupé body with flowing lines, an aggressive front with a big grill, and a sweeping, lower rear. I owned a Fiat 124 Coupé from 1965 a few years ago which was also designed by Bertone and the similarities are clearly there but the Dino is a larger, more elegant car. The interior matches the exterior in a plush combination of leather (one of few options but a feature on many cars) and wood with a thin, large steering wheel. The gearbox is five-speed, there are dual-circuit disc brakes all around and even electric windows (still quite rare in Europe at the time). Even though the later 2.4 litre engine has more power and greater torque, enthusiasts will often tell you the smaller 2-litre is actually the sweeter one to drive. The later car was however also updated notably with independent rear suspension, improved brakes and some othe features making it a more modern car.
Around 5800 2-litre and 2.4 litre Dino coupés were built between 1967 and 1974, with latter cars being assembled not in Turin but at Ferrari’s plant in Maranello. Of all these, few remain today and although only around 2000 convertibles were built, these are easier to find than the coupé. That hasn’t meant they haven’t gone ballistic price-wise though, with good convertibles today costing at least EUR 150.000, and the 2.4 litre being even more expensive as only 400 were built. A good coupé will still be yours for somewhere around EUR 50-60.000. Unless you have a very firm idea of what you want, the individual condition of the car is probably more important than which engine it has. One of the few available options was metallic paint and the dark grey metallic you can still find some cars in is to me the colour which really highlights the car’s beauty!
The most beautiful Dino in my eyes indeed carries the Fiat badge (except the one in the picture above…) and to finish where we started, even though they’ve gone up in price in the last years, a Fiat Dino Coupé is still more than EUR 300.000 (!) cheaper than a Ferrari Dino 246 with the same engine! That’s of course an even more legendary car but it’s not a GT and it also doesn’t have the elegance of the Fiat Dino, one of the most beautiful cars of the 60’s. Good design never goes out of style so if there’s still room in your garage, get one while you still can!
Last week was about the Aston Martin DBX and all the reasons why to me, it won’t save Aston. This notably has to do with the fact that the segment of luxury SUV’s is more contested than ever before, with new models being launched at a steady pace that doesn’t look likely to slow anytime soon, especially if you include all the electrical versions that are planned in the coming years.
Next to all these modern creations there is however another SUV that is still there, dating back to the days when this type of car was still referred to as terrain vehicle. It’s a car as popular among American rappers as with Zurich millionaires, and which costs as much as a DBX. It’s not pretty by any objective standards and about as aerodynamic as your fridge, yet it has a street presence like basically nothing else. I’m obviously talking about the legendary Mercedes G-class (G for Gelände, terrain in German), the long history of which we’ll look briefly into today before focusing on what is to some people, is a hot candidate to the title “most pointless vehicle on the road”, but to others the only SUV worth having: the AMG G63.
It’s difficult to imagine a car which saw the light of day 42 years ago, in 1979, yet where the most successful sales year was 37 years later, in 2016. That’s is however what happened with the G of which in that year 20.000 were sold, out of a total of over 300.000 cars of the original car, built until 2018. The new G-class which then came out looks exactly like the old one and continues to sell at a pace (and in spite of price) that is very surprising. It’s abundandly clear that there’s a certain magic surrounding the G and to try to understand that, we’ll start by winding the clock back to the early 70’s and the Middle East.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, more known as the shah of Iran, was a very powerful and wealthy man until he was removed from power through the Islamic Revolution in 1979. In the early 70’s he owned almost 20% of Daimler through common shares and thus felt entitled to request a few special services, such as the production of a new terrain car for his personal hunting trips but also for his Iranian border patrol. Keen to oblige but also believing it could sell quite a few of the same car to the police, firemen and other public services in Germany, Daimler started a collaboration with Steyr Puch in Austria (today Magna Steyr), a car and parts manufacturer with a large production facility in Graz where the G-class is still being built. The joint company decided to start production and the first cars were delivered in 1979. i.e. in the same year the mullahs ousted the shah in Iran. It’s therefore unclear but highly unlikely that he ever got to hunt in his new G-class. The collaboration lasted until 2000 and also explains why, until then, the G was sold under the Puch brand in a number of markets.
Initially the G was produced in a short 3-door version, a long 5-door version and a 2-door convertible. This first series had a power output of between 102 and 156 hp and was obviously very far from what AMG builds in Affalterbach. All models were however highly capable off road with three differentials compensating a lesser axle interlock than the natural rival, the Defender. The G also had a tipping angle of 38% and short overhangs. As a solid and to a large extent (still today) hand-built car, the quality has always been excellent, as has been recognized notably by the UN that uses G’s in various areas of the world. Unbreakable doesn’t equal extremely comfortable though, something the two rigid axles always reminded passengers of in the old G.
The first series was built unchanged from 1979 until 1990. We’re not going to go through all the subsequent series and engines given the car basically remained unchanged with small variations and different engines until 2018, but a highlight was the first AMG version called G55, launched in 2004 and developing 476 hp. Mercedes now started to pay a bit of attention to the G’s looks, adding a bit of plastic and spoilers here and there and thus giving the car a slightly less utilitarian look. This had the desired effect and the G started attracting a new group of more urban clients, laeding to future G’s being driven far more on the shopping miles of Western cities than in any kind of terrain. In 2011 and 2012 production of the short-wheel, 3-door version and the convertible was stopped. From then and until the end of production of the original G in 2018, the 350d was the only diesel, complemented by the two V8’s in the G500 and the the G 63 AMG, launched in 2012, and then the completely crazy, 612 hp double-turbo, 12-cylinder G65, built from 2015.
Next to these “regular” versions, the G has also been built in a variety of small series by Mercedes itself, and also been treated by various tuners, notably Brabus, adding another couple of hundred hp as if that was ever required. The more spectacular versions include the completely insane G6x6 built for the Australian Army in 2007 but these days very popular in the Middle East, and the 12-cylinder G650 Landaulet that Mercedes presented in Geneva in 2017 as a last iteration of the old G-class. 100 were built of these with an asking price today of over EUR 800.000.
As mentioned initially the G has a street presence like nothing else. Although it isn’t, it looks smaller than modern SUV’s given it stands higher. It’s the only car in production today which to my knowledge has a completely flat front window and it’s certainly the only one with wing-mounted turning indicators and visible door hinges. The thing is however that the original G drove exactly as it looked, making the popularity difficult to understand. I drove a G for the first time around 10 years ago, a 400 cdi which by then was 6-7 years old. The 8-cylinder diesel engine suited the car perfectly and the view and commanding position from the “upper deck” were fantastic. If ever there was a car that makes you feel like the king of the hill, this is the one! That’s however where the positives end. The drive itself (on tarmac) was absolutely horrific, stiff and noisy, and with fear for your life as soon as you neared a corner at any speed. I’ve never driven another car where the EPS kicks in in city driving, and the idea of having more than 600 hp under the hood as in the G65 was truly terrifying.
In 2018 Mercedes launched a completely new G that in spite of looking almost exactly like the old one is practically a new car underneath, and apparently, that was exactly the right call. The new car is slightly longer but also around 12 cm wider which makes a huge difference on the inside, the old G having had the Defender syndrome of the driving seat being very close to the door. The technical changes underneath are too many to mention but importantly include individual suspension on the front wheels and almost 200 kg less weight all in all. Finally the interior today looks like any modern Mercedes SUV with the MBUX screens and the rest. The top version is now the G63 with the 4-litre, 585 hp double-turbo AMG V8. This is also the most sold versions and the one everyone wants, and that both the diesel G350d and the V8 G500 make more sense objectively seems completely irrelevant. And if 585 hp is still not enough, you can still take your new G63 to Brabus who for an additional EUR 100.000 will increase the power to 800 hp and rebuild the interior according to your wishes.
A drive in the new G63 is nothing like the old one. The positives are still there – you do really feel like you’re above everything and everyone else, including other SUV’s. The grunt from the side pipes is just wonderful and the acceleration feels absurd as it takes the car to 100 km/h in less than 4.5 seconds. The ESP is still there and is still needed although it intervenes far less than before. Also the car is really well isolated but if you drive something that looks like a fridge at highway speeds, you will have more wind noise than in a more aerodynamic form. Given however how it’s used these days the G63 does the job as well as a modern SUV, and with tons of more presence. And should you, God forbid, venture outside of a city center onto something like a terrain road, you’ll soon discover that the car is still hugely capable and in that sense, still a true terrain vehicle. You may however have to switch those 22-inch, high-speed tires to something with a bit more rubber before doing so.
If a G63 is your thing you’ll quickly notice something else about it: it has some of the best resale values in the world. A 7-8 year old G63 with more than 150.000 kms is still around EUR 70.000, and the new G’s from 2018 and later have hardly lost any value at all. Mercedes doesn’t limit the number of cars produced but the production takes time given the manual part, meaning there’s quite a long wait for new cars. In 2018 this actually led to available cars being sold at a premium, something that doesn’t happen often with “normal” cars. The unique feel and presence but also the incredible solidity and quality the car oozes of make it understandable why, if you have the money, you would actually spend it on a G63, and financially given strong resale values, it would actually not be completely unwise. The old G is of course much cheaper but there’s a reason, so if you’re thinking of it, then please test drive it extensively to make sure that it’s really your thing. You’ll have none of these worries in the new G. It will never make any rational sense buying this or any other 500+hp SUV such as the DBX, but then again, rational was never fun – the G63 is!
I’ve been told I was mean to Lotus last week, referring to them as unreliable in my post about the fabulous Lupo GTI and my son’s limited mechanical knowledge, so let’s deal with that straight away. I love Lotus deeply and was reminded of it when I had the opportunity to drive my friend Erik’s Elise a couple of weeks ago (I did a piece on when he bought it that you’ll find here), but I maintain that to describe them as reliable at the level of a modern VW would be about as true as claiming that Sweden plays entertaining football.
Growing up in the 80’s one of my real dream cars was indeed a Lotus, however for obvious reasons not the Elise. It was the true supercar-like Lotus Esprit that enchanted me, from the original, 007 one to the later versions. To me it looked cooler than a Ferrari and comparing a 308/328 to an Esprit, I think that holds true even today, as I was able to determine when by chance driving into a Lotus club gathering in the Swiss Alps a couple of weeks ago. One owner was kind enough to give me a close-up tour of his Esprit V8, and that’s obviously a very good reason to look closer at this legendary car, as we’ll do this week!
The Esprit was a true long-runner, coming to market in 1976 as replacement for the Europa, and being produced all the way until 2004, i.e. for 28 years. The wedge-shaped original car was designed by Giorgio Giugiaro and the Esprit’s father and developer was of course none other than legendary Lotus founder Colin Chapman, so the Esprit was a true symbiosis of Italian design and Chapman’s view of what a sports car should be like (read light-weight!). And then it also became a film star, featured in two James Bond films (“They spy who loved me” and “For your eyes only”), as well as in the 1990 classic “Pretty Woman”, where Julia Roberts teaches Richard Gere how to use a stickshift in the hills above LA.
When the Esprit was launched in the mid-70’s, Lotus was still a big name in Formula 1 with Mario Andretti as the star driver. Andretti took his world championship title in 1978 in a Lotus, and this was to be Lotus’s last of a total of seven F1 titles. It was perhaps not a surprise therefore that the first version of the Esprit (called S1, Series 1) actually had a lot in common with an F1 car: the driving position is pretty much the same, i.e. half-lying , the handling is perhaps not on the level of an F1 car but still superb, the whole car is 1.11 metres high, i.e. low enough to make an Evora feel like a family sedan, and with the engine located directly behind the seats, the sound is said to be fantastic, although perhaps not at the level of a 70’s F1 car. The S1 had a four-cylinder engine that until 1978 only put out 160 hp in Europe and 140 hp in the US, however the car weighed only 1050 kg and was therefore still as fast as a 911 SC. In terms of interior materials and quality, let’s just note that the world has come a long way since the 70’s, although there is actually more cloth in the S1 than in a modern Elise…
The S2 was introduced in 1978 with some minor cosmetic revisions but most famously also in the John Player Special edition with the same black paint with gold stripes as Andretti’s F1 world championship car. The big technical innovation was however the introduction of the turbo in 1980 that took the performance to 213 hp and gave the car a top speed of 240 km/h and a sprint to 100 km/h in around six seconds. The S3 which succeeded the S2 in 1983 was the list incarnation of the “original” Esprit and remained largely unchanged, albeit with a bit more power and offered both with and without turbo until 1987.
The second version of the Esprit that came out in 1988 and was designed by Philip Stevens was a largely different car. Although staying true to the original shape, the design was much more 80’s-like, but also more polished and offering occupants more room in an improved interior. The production process was also improved, as was the car’s rigidity. The mechanical components and engines would however remain pretty much the same until 1994 when the Lotus 3.5-litre V8 engine with twin turbos was introduced in the S4, taking the Esprit from a fast sports car to supercar territory. The V8 put out a very healthy 350 hp, 50 more than the regular, 2.2 litre S4 that was still produced, leading to a 100 km/h sprint in less than 4.5 seconds and a top speed of more than 280 km/h. From here on the Esprit remained largely unchanged until the end of production in 2004. It should however be noted that in addition to the main models described above, there was also a multitude of smaller series produced, often in very low numbers, and all of which are of course real gems today.
Coming back to the Lotus gathering I ran into a couple of weeks ago, even if this was a dream car in my youth, I had never even sat in an Esprit and was thus about as nervous as a 15-year old on his first date when I was offered to do so. That I’m no long 15 then became very obvious, as I tried to maneovre myself with some kind of elegance into the very low seat, with the smile on the owner’s face indicating I was less successful than I thought. Once you’re in and have assumed the half-lying but not uncomfortable position, you quickly note that visibility is comparable to how a good friend of mine says you should live life, i.e. with a big front screen and a small rear mirror. That’s to say that it’s very limited in all directions but forward, and if you look sideways your eyes will be on the same height as bystanders’ behinds. You also have a very limited feel for how large the car is, but interestingly, whereas back in the day the Esprit looked like a large car, today it feels rather small – as so often is the case.
The owner was kind enough to turn the key and rev the V8 of his S4 a bit, and the sound is of course wonderful and as he said, also a constant companion on the trip given where the engine is located, so you’d better enjoy it. Using a devoted Esprit owner as source for any kind of objective information is obviously not ideal, but going by his enthusiasm I have to believe that the car is indeed the tremendous drive the looks promise, with almost perfect balance, great steering and a gearshift that is far more precise than the rather chubby changer would have you believe. I did however sense a bit of hesitation as to whether the V8 is a better engine option than the four-cylinder, and even got an admission that from a budget perspective, it’s probably the four-pot you should go for…
Speaking of money, Esprits have been on the way up price-wise for the last few years. Around 10.000 were built all in all but many have died far too early and the offer is thus very limited, especially if you’re looking for a special series where you have to be prepared to pay big bucks. The market for good cars starts somewhere around EUR 40.000 and goes up to six figures for really well kept, low-mileage cars, or special series. Whether you go for the original Esprit (S1-S3) or the updated version is a matter of taste: the early cars seduce with their clean lines and 70’s charm, but the later ones are clearly more liveable, comfortable and, if I dare say so, reliable. As for the best engine, the four-cylinder is probably the sensible way to go, potentially even without the turbo given the car’s low weight. So to end where we started, whatever version you go for, do make sure you have enough of a budget left to give it the love and maintenance it will no doubt require. Then again, so does a 308/328 or any other sports or supercar from the same era. And choosing between those, at least to me, 007 was always cooler than Magnum!
I think we can all agree that if one car was to symbolize all sports cars through the years, it would have to be the 911. It’s one of the most legendary cars ever built, and one which has more lives than a cat, but also one which has evolved such as to always stay on top of its game. Matching the 911 has been difficult for any other sports car builder, not to speak of really small outfits with limited resources. And yet one of these, a family business based in the Bavarian town of Pfaffenhausen, is doing it successfully since more than 50 years, and is perhaps the most legendary Porsche specialist of all. I’m of course talking about Ruf, the small company which restores and perfects 911’s to new heights for a small number of very fortunate – and very rich – clients. Looking at what has made Ruf so legendary is however completely free, and that’s what we’ll do this week!
Launching any business in Germany in 1939 doesn’t necessarily sound like very good timing, but that’s what Alois Ruf did. It was a car repair shop and how it fared during the war is anyone’s guess, but it did survive and Alois also made some money on the side by working as a Sunday bus driver. Nothing very remarkable about that, until in 1963 his bus was overtaken by a Porsche 356 which went on to slid off the road and end up on the roof. Alois took the driver to the local hospital and promised to repair his car. So he did, and this was Ruf’s first contact with a Porsche. He bought it from the unlucky owner after the restoration and a few years later in Munich, he was stopped by a man offering him anything he wanted for his 356 – including his own 911. Alois accepted and realized two things: firstly, that the 911 was an even better car than the 356, and in his eyes with lots of further potential. And secondly, that all Porsche drivers are nutcases.
Ruf thus started by repairing Porsche’s, mostly 911’s, thereby learning everything there was to know about parts and the car’s general construction. As we get to the late 70’s, Alois Jr. had taken over the company from his father who died in 1974, and Porsche was planning to discontinue the 911 and replace it by the 928. The number of 911 versions was therefore reduced to the basis version and the turbo, but with the large following of 911 owners Ruf had as clients, Alois quickly realized that this wouldn’t work – the 911 crowd had precious little interest in a large GT that didn’t have the engine in the back, at least as replacement for the 911. He didn’t need more to start developing an alternative in 1979, which would become Ruf’s first, and to this day, most legendary car: the CTR1, also known as the Yellowbird.
The CTR1 was based on the Carrera 3.2 shell and the 935 engine and was built both on frames provided by Porsche, but also from existing 911’s. 29 “original” CTR1’s were built, with another 20-30 as reworked 911’s. Weight was reduced by removing the back seats and sound-deafening material, and where Ruf felt they had better parts to offer, the didn’t hesitate to replace Porsche parts with these, such as the braking system which became known as the best in the car world. Thanks to a double-KKK turbo, performance was increased to 469 hp for a total weight of the car of 1150 kg. In a famous test in the US magazine “Road & Track” in 1987, the CTR1 was matched against notably the 959, the Countach and the Testarossa, beating them all in top speed and thereby becoming recognized as the fastest car in the world, with a top speed of 339 km/h. The test car Road & Track drove was yellow, which gave it its more famous name Yellowbird. Ruf took the CTR1 to the Nürburgring as well and became known as having been there not to set the fastest time, but rather to record the most drifts…
Production of the successor CTR2, based this time on the 993 Turbo chassis, started in 1995. The philosophy was very much the same as with the CTR1, namely that every part on the car should have a clear purpose. In Alois’s words, a Ruf should fit the driver like a pair of tight trousers. The CTR2 does however have far more styling elements and the advanced thinking that goes into the cars can for example be seen in the CTR2’s rear wing, which is formed such as to provide down force but also lead additional cooling air into the engine. The car was offered both as rear- and all-wheel drive and a long list of other improvements, including a kevlar body with lightweight glass. The engine was this time based on the 962 Group C engine with 520-580 hp depending on year of production. Hereby Ruf reclaimed the title as fastest serial-produced car in the world, at 10 km/h more than the CTR1, now beating notably the Jaguar XJ220 and the Ferrari F50. All in all 28 CTR2’s were produced, around half of them in an optimized “Sport” version with up to 702 hp, raced notably in Pike’s Peak but still fully street legal.
The Ruf CTR3 which was presented at the 20-year anniversary of the CTR1 in 2007, no longer looked like the corresponding 911, as this time Ruf had built its own rear half, fitted to the 911 front. The 3.7-litre, twin-turbo 701 hp flat-six engine was mid rather than rear-mounted, as in the Cayman. A Clubsport version was trimmed to 777 hp, with both cars achieving top speeds of over 375 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of three seconds. The standard car was discontinued in 2012 but the Clubsport version is built to this day. It’s not clear how many have been built all in all but it’s a small number, as with its predecessors.
the CTR’s 1-3 are the most well-known Ruf cars, but many others have been built from scratch or from existing 911’s through the years, as unique cars or in very small series. Of these, it is still the CTR1 that as no other has come to symbolize the Ruf philosophy and which is also the closest related to later cars, such as the SCR and the anniversary CTR the company now works on. It’s easy to focus on the performance and top speed when talking about Ruf, or indeed on its strong rally pedigree that I haven’t covered here, but it’s also worth remembering the tradition and craftmansship which goes into every car built. Every screw is tightened by hand by what almost feels like a family of technicians, many who have worked for the company for 30-40 years. There is great pride in the cars built, many of which today end up in Asia, but also in the production of parts that are difficult to get elsewhere. Alois Jr. is the company’s CEO and his wife Estonia handles marketing. Today the production consists of a variety of models where my favourite is hands down the Ruf SCR, a car I had the pleasure of seeing at the car show in Geneva in 2018. Not only does it look like a classic 911, only slightly better, but it also marries a 510 hp naturally aspirated flat-six to a weight of only 1250 kg. I personally spent more time in the Ruf boot that year than in all the others combined, where Estonia was happy to answer all questions I had.
There are Ruf’s for sale out there but they’re obviously few and far between and usually have six-zero price tags. The other alternative is of course to take your 911 to Pfaffenhausen and have it modified to your own specifications, and here the price will depend on what those are. Ruf will even build you an electric 911 today, should you for some reason want that. Luckily, business is good, and Ruf promises to be around for another few years. We should all be grateful for the fantastic cars, but also as what the company represents has become a very rare commodity in today’s world. Let’s hope companies like Ruf and others where true craftsmanship still rules will still have a place in the motoring world of tomorrow!
PS. In other news, the car vlogger Jayemm also picked up on the “Ferrari FF being the best bargain out there” angle in a video from this week you can see here (if you missed my post on it from March, see here). He makes the point that given the future of naturally aspirated V12’s looks about as promising as being one of the last remaining dinosaurs 65 million years ago, these could well become collectibles with rising values as a result. If you’re in the market for one, and I don’t see why you shouldn’t be, something worth keeping in mind!
As mentioned in my before-last post on the Alfa GTV6 a couple of weeks ago, one of the reasons I liked it so much was that pretty much all other cars you would see in the mid-80’s on the streets of Stockholm were various Volvos and Saabs, which to a young teenager were all rather boring. In the case of Volvo this was rather intentional, as the company at the time put security and practicality far ahead of any kind of driving thrills or exciting design. But as the 80’s became the 90’s things started to change, and when a few years later Volvo started racing with a large estate, by then it was clear that nothing was the same any longer at the Volvo factory in Torslanda, next to Gothenburg. No car examplified Volvo’s “new” profile better than the top of the line 850 T5-R, a racing estate that has today become a rarity on our streets. But how did it all happen, and should you secure a T5-R before it’s too late? That’s what we’ll look closer at this week!
When the Volvo 850 was introduced in 1991, it was a small revolution for both Volvo and many of its owners, arguably less passionate than Alfistas and other more engaged car owner groups, but still with a firm idea as to what a Volvo should be like. And for as long as anyone cared to remember, large Volvo estates had been rear-wheel drive and in their top version fitted with a big, longitudinal six-cylinder engine up front. The concept is actually quite surprising for a brand selling on practicality and security in… Sweden, a country not really known for its warm temperatures and with quite long, snowy and icy winters. There’s a saying that the when a client would complain about a slight lack of traction in his 945, the Volvo salesman would tell him to throw in a sand bag or two in the back. I never tried that, but I did own a Volvo 965 at one point and ended up precisely in this situation on the way up to the Alps. My mother was part of the trip, so we solved it by moving her back to the cavernous boot, to give it a bit of extra weight. It worked as intended, so I guess the Volvo people had a point.
I realize I just compared my mother to a sand bag, so let’s perhaps move back to the 850. Not only was it front-wheel drive but it also introduced a five-cylinder, 2.3 litre transversal engine, a combination that would from then become the Volvo standard for the coming 25 years, in a clear break with the past. Presented to the world in 1991 first as a sedan and from 1993 as an estate, the latter was a bit smaller on the outside than Volvo’s earlier large estates, but thanks to the transversal engine as well as the preserved boxy shape, it still offered a comparable luggage space. This was important as until then estates, and especially Volvo estates were were bought for their practicality and not for their coolness, but that was about to change… Various engine options were available, none of them terribly exciting, except the top-of-the-range 850 Turbo with 225 hp that came out in 1994.
1994 will however go down in the 850 history for a different reason. Volvo had decided to participate in the at the time very popular British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), primarily as part of a marketing drive to try to add some spice to the company’s profile. The 850 sedan was expected to be the basis of the new racing car, but some marketing genius up in Gothenburg realized how much more attention an estate would gather, and so Volvo lined up the 850 estate for the 1994 championship together with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). The plan worked wonders in all respects. Seeing a Volvo estate on two wheels through the corners of British racing tracks was very memorable, and the cars were fast as well. They didn’t win the championship but they caused enough commotion for BTCC’s management to change the rules for 1995, forcing Volvo to switch to the sedan. From a marketing perspective that no longer mattered – Volvo had gotten all the attention they wanted, now the only needed to follow up with an 850 version that connected to the racing car – and so enter the 850 T-5R.
The T5-R was introduced in 1995 and was based on the aforementioned 850 Turbo. Volvo worked together with Porsche (yep!) for the engine tuning that gave the engine another 18 hp, as well as the revised transmission. The mechanical developments were complemented by a large front spoiler and a rear wing which together made the car look rather cool and helped improve its wind resistance, enabling a time of around 7 seconds to 100 km/h and a top speed of 245 km/h. At the time, this made the T5-R one of the fastest estates in the world, and (by a margin) the fastest Volvo ever built. Available with a five-speed manual or a slow and not very motivated four-speed auto box, colour options were limited to a very bleak “cream yellow” or a traditional black.
The T5-R was so successful that Volvo had to revise the planned limited production of 2500 cars of the 1995 model year, extending it into 1996 and adding dark green as a third colour. When production stopped in 1996 a total of around 7.000 cars had been built. In the same year the successor 850R came out (offering far more colours!), essentially the same car but never being able to connect to the T5-R glory, also since it wasn’t a limited production run. A year later production of the 850 ended as it was replaced by the S70/V70.
Driving a T5-R doesn’t bring the same ketchup effect as an old 80’s-style turbo, but still gives much of the same feeling. Front-wheel drive may be beneficial on snowy roads in Sweden but as everyone knows, the concept does cause some limitations when you associate it to a relatively powerful, front-mounted turbo engine, meaning you need to manage power to the front wheels carefully at red lights and on curvy roads. Otherwise the T5-R offers all the qualities of a Volvo estate in a very cool, 90’s shape and remains an autobahn express par excellence until this day. And it still feels very fast, also since it weighs in at below 1500 kg.
Coming back to the initial question then, should you add a T5-R to your driveway while you still can? I certainly wouldn’t mind, given the car’s inherent qualities but already today, it’s easier said than done. Very few 850 T5-R’s are still out there and most of these are real high-mileage cars, with anything from 250′ to 350′ km on the clock. That’s often the case with old Volvos and is obviously a great testament to the quality of the cars, but it also means you need to be very thorough when considering one. Price-wise the T5-R is on the way up with cars coming in at between EUR 15.000-30.000 depending on mileage. It doesn’t end there though since to my mind, the only T5-R you should consider is a cream yellow, manual estate. If you find one of those you don’t want to miss it since not only is it one of the coolest estates from the 90’s, it’s also a car that played a significant role in Volvo’s history!
Everyone knows AMG, the independent company specialized in the tuning of Mercedes engines that the latter took over in 2005 and that is since fully owned by MB. Next to building the most powerful version in most product lines, having AMG inhouse also enables MB to stick various AMG logos on lots of other models as well (and whether that “logo inflation” is a good thing or not is something that certainly can, and perhaps will be discussed in a future post). AMG is thereby comparable to the M-division at BMW. M didn’t start as an individual company, but today represents the same for BMW that AMG does for Mercedes, i.e. various cosmetic sports packages as well as the most powerful models.
But if you’re a BMW fan. there’s also the option of getting an Alpina. To clarify, given this is sometimes misunderstood, Alpina is neither an M car badged differently, nor is it a brand owned by BMW. It is something far more exclusive. An Alpina can be viewed as the grand tourer version of BMW’s M offer, different in character, very individual and built in small quantities. BMW and Alpina work closely together since more than 50 years, but BMW has no ownership in the little known manufacturer from the small town of Buchloe, close to Munich. Today we’ll look closer at the company’s history and whether, if you’re a market for a “real” BMW M, you should consider the corresponding Alpina before deciding. I don’t think I’m ruining the party by answering that last question straight away: in most cases, yes you should!
Burkhard Bovensiepen from Buchloe (an alliteration as good as any) could have had an easy if not very exciting life, had he decided to take over the family’s thriving typewriter business. But somehow, back in the early sixties, he decided that this wasn’t what he wanted his life to be about. A couple of years earlier, Bovensiepen had owned a Fiat 1500 he felt needed more power, so on a trip to Italy he had visited a local tuner who sold him the standard kit of improved camshaft and double Weber carburettors, thereby managing to squeeze out a bit more power from the small engine. Unfortunately though the treatment wasn’t long-lived, and the motor literally fell apart on Bovensiepen’s way back to Buchloe. That convinced him of two things: firstly, more power was fun (as long as the engine doesn’t break), and secondly, professional tuning had to be done in a way adapated to the specific car, rather than as standardized after-market kits for various engines. On the basis of that philosophy Alpina was born in 1962, and Bovensiepen decided to focus on cars from the automaker right around the corner in Munich: BMW.
BMW had at this time launched the 1500 (yep, same name and nope, that wouldn’t be possible today!) that was to become Alpina’s first project car. Bovensiepen bought one and started working on the carburettors, exhaust and various other parts, hereby improving the output by 10 hp to 90 hp. The rather basic marketing effort consisting of sticking notes under the wipers of BMW 1500’s, inciting owners to give their cars the Alpina treatment for around 1000 DM. The very basic marketing proved surprisingly successful and in 1965, BMW approved of the modifications and went as far as granting Alpinas the same guarantee package as the original cars. That’s how a close collaboration that lasts until this day started, with Alpina, initially with only 8 employees, tuning most new BMW models and with time, also offering further options for interior design and suspension.
During the 70’s Alpina competed in German car races with its own team next to BMW, in both cases based on the BMW 02-series. Both teams were very successful and with drivers such as Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Jacky Ickx, they would go on to win most races both in the European and German championships, be it touring, rallies or mountain races. In 1977, Alpina ended the racing adventure as other projects had now become more important, most notably three new developments: BMW Alpina B6 2,8 based on the 3-series, the B7-Turbo based on the 5-series, and the B7 Turbo Coupé, based on the 6-series. Both B7’s, thanks to a KKK turbo and intercooler, would develop up to 330 hp and had a top speed over 260 km/h, but were at the same time very civilized to drive, thereby setting the mark for Alpina’s niche: powerful but not edgy, more grand tourer than sports car.
Alpina continued to grow and develop through the years, although the number of cars built on each specific BMW model in the 80’s and 90’s could be as low as 20-30, so very small series, obviously making these very sought-after today. A further recognition of the seriousness of the Alpina proposition came in 1983 when the company was registered as a car brand in Germany, i.e. not just a tuner. Other notable developments were the first bi-turbo engine in 1989 and the first diesel Alpina ten years later, in 1999. Today, diesels make up close to half the cars produced.
It’s difficult to summarize all the models Alpina have worked on over the years and the highlights are to a certain extent a matter of personal preferences, but a couple of noteworthy ones are clearly the two BMW Alpina Roadsters based on the Z1 and the Z8 (and where Alpina fitted an auto box to the otherwise manual Z8 to boost US sales), as well as the Alpina B6 GT3, based on the BMW 6-series and that in 2010 marked Alpina’s return to racing, going on to win the German GT3 series the year after. Today the company offers a version of most BMW models, including the big X7 SUV (of which there is no M-version). Many of the engine parts as well as gearbox, instruments and wheels are today sent to BMW from Alpina. BMW then build and paint the cars before returning them to Alpina for fitting of tailor-made interiors and aerodynamic kits etc.
There’s basically three ways to distinguish an Alpina from the corresponding regular BMW: firstly by colour, at least if it’s in the specific Alpina green or blue, both rather bright and flashy, and colours Alpina also like to do interior stitching in. Secondly, by side stripes. Because yes, the stripes that to all intents and purposes look like something straight out of the 70’s and aren’t necessarily very elegant, is something Alpina still sticks on its cars if they owner wants them to. There seems to be roughly a 50/50 split between those opting for and against them. Finally though, and by far the nicest mark of an Alpina, are the lovely, 20-inch and beyond multi-spoke wheels. Interiors can be individualized and are again, often a matter of taste, but typically include different steering wheels, gauge clusters, seats, wood trim etc. Nothing very spectacular, and arguably also not always of good taste, but with a high degree of individualization.
Whether an Alpina is a better proposition than an M-car depends on what you’re looking for. Driving-wise it’s been described pretty well as the M-version being the track car, and the Alpina the car to get you to the track. After the racing era in the 70’s, Alpina’s focus has been to build powerful but easy to drive cars, which in most tests are described as less sporty than M-cars, but also a more rounded experience all in all. So it’s really up to your personal preferences. If you’re looking for the sports car characteristics of an M-car, that’s probably the way to go. If however you’re looking for more of a GT nature, then you really can’t go wrong with an Alpina. Warranties are the same as for any BMW car, and the local BMW garage will also not have any issues servicing it. The starting price of an Alpina tends to be close to the corresponding M-car (net of some equipment differences) with resale values typically higher, obviously due to the fact that in spite of its success, Alpina even today sticks to building no more than 1500-1700 cars per year. You’ll thus pay more if you buy a used one (especially if it’s one of the smaller series), but future values can be estimated to remain very stable. Given this, although there’s nothing wrong with answering the question on what car you drive with “BMW”, saying “Alpina” definitely has a more exclusive ring to it!
There has been a lot about hypercars on the blog in the last weeks, at least relative to what there usually is. Starting with the post on Koenigsegg (see here) and following on with last week’s interview with Supercars Invest Fund’s Theis Gerner Stanek (see here), the latter notably mentioned his strong love for another supercar brand than Koenigsegg, the cars of which he referred to as true works of art. He was of course right, and it would feel incomplete to move on from supercars to other exciting themes without having looked a bit closer at the Argentinan-born artist Horacio Pagani and his masterpieces, commonly referred to as cars. This week is therefore about Pagani and its unique take on the hypercar segment!
As an Italian born and bred in Argentina, you may think that a man who has dedicated his life to building some of the world’s most extreme hypercars would be a flamboyant, loud character, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Although driven by his life-long passion, Horacio is a soft-spoken artist that grew up in the small town of Casilda in Argentina to which his great grandfather had emigrated from Como, Italy. He started drawing cars and motorcycles as a child, having a dream of one day building sports cars in Modena, far away from the Argentinian pampa. A few years later he went on to study fine arts and engineering while drawing Formula 2 and 3 cars in his spare time. He was so good at it that he was allowed to work with Renault formula cars, and through that met a certain Juan Manuel Fangio. Fangio became so impressed by the young Horacio that he took upon him to write letters to the Italian sports car builders, telling them to hire him. Pagani himself was also convinced that his future was to be found somewhere in northern Italy, and returned to the old country before he knew he had a job. A while later, he did however get a call from Lamborghini and that’s when his career started for real.
Having spent some time wiping the floors in Sant’Agata, Horacio wasn’t shy about his ambition to become a great supercar builder¨ and made sure to tell the senior people at Lamborghini about it. He started to move up the ranks, ultimately becoming a chief engineer engaged with notably the Countach Evo and the Diablo. In the process he also became highly convinced of carbon fibre as a material for the future and tried to convince Lamborghini to buy a so called autoclave, basically a machine that would allow for larger usage of carbon fibre going forward. Lamborghini refused with as main motivation that Ferrari didn’t have one – perhaps not the most visionary type of business management… Horacio wouldn’t take no for an answer and borrowed enough money to buy his own autoclave. He left Lamborghini an in 1991 set up his own company – Pagani Automobili. The development of the Zonda now started, but it would take until 1999 before the first cars were finished.
Let’s make a short pit stop here to point out some key differences to Koenigsegg, arguably Pagani’s only real comparable hypercar competitor. Firstly, although carbon fibre is a prominent material for both, it has always been the lead material for Pagani from the first prototype until today, very much at the heart of the company It’s everywhere, from the chassis, over the bodywork to the interior, and all in a very visible way. Secondly, unlike Koenigsegg, Pagani decided from the start not to develop his own engines, instead partnering up with AMG, a partnership that has lasted to this day. Thirdly, if Koenigsegg can be said to follow a Scandinavian, toned-down design language, Pagani couldn’t be more different.
The Zonda C12 premiered in 1999 and was built through 2011, and new versions were again introduced in 2013 and as late as 2017. Around 130 Zondas have been built in total, in a mix of coupés and convertibles. Fangio, who helped launch Pagani’s career, was involved in the development of the car until his death in 1995. Built largely out of carbon fibre and carbon-based synthetic materials, the Zonda is light, weighing in at between 1100-1300 kg, which given the opulence notably in the interior is pretty impressive. It’s also a bit surprising given the wonderful but not very light 6-litre, naturally aspirated AMG V12 that sits in the middle of the car and in 1999 produced 394 hp, enough already then to give the Zonda a top speed of over 290 km/h. On later versions the engine volume was increased up to 7.3 litres and power up to 800 hp in the Zonda Revolucion, introduced in 2013. The initial C12 is therefore the only Zonda with a top speed under 300 km/h, the others are well above. It’s also noteworthy that until 2013, all Zondas had a 6-speed manual box, only then becoming a 6-speed sequential.
Everything about the Zonda is spectacular. The four pipes in the back, the purpose-built carbon fibre body, the interior quality and materials – it just goes on. It’s however practically impossible to find two cars that are alike, given again the number of special versions, but also that owners can obviously tailor-make their cars pretty much as they want. Pagani has several times reiterated that building a Pagani easily costs ten times more than building a more normal car, but that part of his proposition is precisely never to compromise to save costs. The whole car is hand-built and each car takes more than a month to finish. The number of cars built is by the way not fully up to Pagani, it’s part of the agreement with AMG who will not deliver more than a pre-agreed number of engines. After all, AMG also does a bit of business with the mother company in Stuttgart…
In 2012, Pagani introduced the successor Huayra (yep, pretty difficult to pronounce and if you’re wondering, both Huayra and Zonda are south-American winds), although both cars were in the end built in parallel until 2017. The Huayra can be said to be slightly toned-down in its looks, although it remains a spectacular car. It’s also a more modern car than the Zonda, with the body notably including “active” aerodynamic elements such as the two flaps behind the seats that rise during breaking. The gearbox is now a 7-speed sequential, but that it remains a single-clutch also show Pagani’s way of thinking: a double clutch would have added 70 kg in additional weight, thus cancelling out any advantage in acceleration obtained through quicker shifting. But even with a single-clutch box the Huayra is far from slow, with a 2.8 seconds time to 100 km/h and a top speed of 383 km/h.
The biggest change versus the Zonda however and the fact that many Pagani owners still prefer the latter, is the fact that the Huyara no longer has the naturally aspirated AMG V12, but rather a new, 6-litre, twin-turbo V12. It still comes from AMG and neither power output nore weight have suffered, but even those not obsessed by naturally-aspirated engines will note a far less spectacular engine note than in the Zonda. The Huayra was also built as coupé and convertible in a lot of different series and versions, with the last of around 300 cars said to have left the factory in 2020. Based on what happened with the Zonda that’s probably not the final date though, notably with rumours of a coming Huayra R (the R being the most extreme version of the Zonda) that would return to the naturally-aspirated V12.
There are also rumours of an all-new Pagani coming out soon (here probably defined as years rather than months) notably with talk of something aircraft-inspired (but then again maybe that’s the Huayra R). Few details are known, but one thing is sure: it will again be a multi-million creation largely out of carbon fibre, with an amazing interior and a large V12 engine behind the seats – hopefully at least, maybe a hybrid this time? Pampero is by the way a strong, northern wind that often blows down over Uruguay and Argentina. Whether Pagani stays with the wind theme and calls the new car Pampero or something else doesn’t really matter: Horacio more than achieved his dream as a boy of building true supercars, and he does it in a way that lets all of us all dream a little. If Koenigsegg is the Scandinavian supercar, then Pagani is very much the southern European one. Playing with the thought of which one you would choose if you could, is interesting!
The morning dog walks in our sleepy village outside of Zurich usually don’t bring much in car excitement, and after a premature summer left Switzerland after Good Friday and had changed into a rather grey and chilly morning on Saturday, I wasn’t expecting much of anything. But then there it was, the car which from afar looked like a Mini, but on closer scrutiny was the today very rare A112, and as I was to discover, even a perfectly kept / restored 70 hp Abarth! Some of you will know the A112 as an Autobianchi, an Italian brand from the 70-80’s. Today these lovely small cars have become unusual, especially in one of the early 70’s series as this one was. Back in the day however, (when 70 hp in a small car was still something worth bragging about), the A112 was a frequent sight on the roads especially in southern Europe, and Autobianchi was on the technical forefront of motor engineering, at least in the small car segment. So a bit unplanned as street finds tend to be, this week we’ll have a closer look at the racy A112 Abarth!
Autobianchi had its roots in Bianchi, an Italian manufacturer of bicycles (cycle enthusiasts will know it very well!) and motorcycles founded in 1886. 20 years later Bianchi started producing cars as well, but that was met with a moderate success and by the 50’s, the firm was close to bankruptcy. To try to save what could be saved, together with Fiat and Pirelli, the car business was separated into Autobianchi, initially co-owned by the three companies but taken over by Fiat in 1968. Fiat’s idea with Autobianchi was to position it as a more exclusive version of the “regular” Fiats and a brand under which technical innovations could be tested without risking Fiat’s reputation. The most notable of these included the relatively new concept of combining front-wheel drive with Fiat’s first transverse engine. Autobianchi’s first models had names such as Primula and Giardinera, more reminiscent of gardening than anything on four wheels, but then in the 60’s first the A111 and subsequently the A112 were introduced. The latter would be built during 17 years until 1985 in a total of 1.2 million cars, making it by far the most successful car in Autobianchi’s history.
With a total length of 323 cm, the A112 was based on a shortened Fiat 128 chassis. Marcello Gandini, the man behind cars such as the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo, was given the task to design the car, but it’s quite obvious that he took less inspiration from what he had done for Lamborghini and more from another car that had already illustrated how successful the small, front-wheel drive concept could be: the Mini. The A112’s original engine was the 0.9 litre four-cylinder from the Fiat 850 initially producing 42 hp, later increased to 48 hp. Already in 1971 however, the Torino-based car engineer Carlo Abarth, founder of the company of the same name, saw the potential in the small and light A112 and came up with a 107 hp prototype. This was considered far too much fun by Fiat, and also too expensive to put into production, and power was therefore reduced to 58 hp in the first Abarth versions, and then from 1975 increased to 70 hp. This was notably achieved thanks to a sports exhaust, bringing the additional benefit of a wonderful sound! Combined with the fact that the A112 Abarth was the first A112 version with a five-speed gearbox, it quickly became a favourite among drivers with ambition, of which according to the buying statistics, as many as 35% were women.
That takes us back to my morning discovery as what I had in front of me was indeed a 70 hp Abarth version from the mid-late 70’s. Having studied it a bit I’m pretty certain this was the third series of the car, meaning it was built between 1975-1977. 70 hp isn’t much these days, then again the car only weighs around 700 kg, almost half of a modern, small car. The nice, 70’s bucket seats looked perfect, as did he rest of the interior (sorry for the reflections int he picture). The Abarth drive is said to be sporty with a typical front-wheel understeering tendency, but notably the short wheelbase meant that the A112 could also switch to oversteering, making the whole thing slightly adventurous. In Italy there was a rally class champinoship for the A112 in the late 70’s – early 80’s, and more recently, fans of Gran Turismo will also know that it’s a car featured in the game. Undoubtedly, the fact that the cars were driven quite hard has had quite a severe effect on the numbers that remain today!
So what happened to Autobianchi? well, given Fiat also owned Lancia with a similar brand positioning, over time it became increasingly difficult to separate the two brands. The A112 was replaced by the Y10 in 1986, which was to become Autobianchi last model and was actually sold under the Lancia brand in some markets outside of Italy. Fiat officially discontinued Autobianchi in 1995, it has never had a rebirth since, and probably never will. That doesn’t change anything to the fact that the Abarth 70 hp is a really cool small city car of a kind that isn’t built anymore, and that provides lots of fun (including the sound!) until this day. Nice ones are around EUR 10′, perfect ones as the one I saw proabably around EUR 15′. Try to find another modern supercar with bucket seats, plenty of Abarth badges or a 70’s double exhaust pipe for that money!
If, like me, you were born in a country and live in another, you know well of all the things that remind you of your place of birth (or that others will remind you of). If, like me, you were born in Sweden, these include music from Abba to Avicii, herring and crispbread, and of course Zlatan (Ibrahimovic). In car terms it’s always been about Volvo and Saab, even though the former is nowadays Chinese and the latter went bankrupt a couple of times before finally pulling the plug ten years ago. There is, however, one other Swedish car brand from the small town of Ängelholm in southern Sweden that is very far from bankruptcy. Not only that, it was founded less than 30 years ago and has in less than three decades developed into what I consider the world’s leading supercar manufacturer. So, if you ask me what makes me most proud of being Swedish, it would be coming from the country of Koenigsegg – and this week we’ll have a closer look at the Swedish hypercar brand and its founder Christian von Koenigsegg, who knows how to do a lot of things, including dreaming big and building the fastest cars in the world!
The story starts in 1994 when 22-year old Christian has already shown both interest and talent for technical innovations as well as drawing, and has also made some money in his young years. Fascinated by cars since his early childhood, the Stockholm-born Christian from the originally German noble family Königsegg, set up a business in southern Sweden with the modest ambition to build the greatest supercar the world had ever seen, combining Swedish design with state-of-the-art technology. Fast wasn’t enough – his car was to be the fastest in the world. You could basically describe him as the Zlatan of the car world in his ambition, however with a very different attitude and modesty (the latter a word Zlatan can’t spell…). Doing this anywhere in the world with a far more solid background is hard – very hard. Doing it as an inexperienced 22-year old in Sweden should be impossible, but wasn’t, and only two years after Koenigsegg was founded, the company presented their first prototype, the CC. From there on, it took another 3-4 years until Koenigsegg’s first small-series model, the CC8S, was introduced at the Paris auto show. Production then started two years later, in 2002.
The CC8S was highly innovative and clearly illustrated what the company’s ambition was, as it already included some noteworthy innovations, such as the synchro helix door actuation system (the folding-knife doors) and a free-flowing exhaust system, both patented by Christian and part of his more than 10 personal patents. He is in other words not only the founder and CEO of Koenigsegg, but very much its Chief Technology Officer as well! The engine of the CC8S was a heavily modified, 4.8 litre Ford V8 producing 655 hp, enough in 2002 to get it into the Guinness book of records as the world’s strongest engine in serial production. The series was however small as only 6 cars were produced in 2002-2003. Its successor, the CCR, brought some important improvements when it came out in 2004, including an 806 hp and 920 Nm power output. Remember this is 2004, i.e. more than 15 years ago, when such numbers were still truly spectacular. This is also where Koenigsegg’s quest for various speed records start. With a top speed of 388 km/h, the CCR was at the time the world’s fastest car. Unfortunately for Koenigsegg, the record would only stand for a few months before it was beaten by the Bugatti Veyron with 408 km/h…
In 2006 the CCR became the further evolved CCX, a car that was an important milestone for the company. Although still based on the CC8S it was heavily modified and for the first time featured an engine developed in-house and producing 817 hp. Importantly the engine could run on 91 octane fuel and also passed the Californian environmental regulation. The CCX was in other words the first Koenigsegg car to be sold in the US, and the “X” in the name commemorates the 10-year anniversary of the first ever test drive with the CC prototype in 1996. Its environmentally-friendly sister car, the CCXR followed a couple of years later and could be driven on ethanol, bringing the benefit of some more power for those who felt they needed it. On ethanol the CCXR produces 1018 hp and 1060 Nm of torque, cracking the 1000-mark both for hp and Nm for the first time – but not the last.
Fast forward to 2010 and Koenigsegg presents the Agera (“act” in Swedish) that over the coming seven years would be built in various versions with between 910 and 1175 hp. Although based on the CCX, the Agera featured a new body, new interior and a new engine. The car’s monocoque is made of carbon fibre which brings us to a central theme of all Koenigsegg cars, namely keeping the weight under control. Whereas a Bugatti Chiron weighs in at just under two tons, Koenigseggs have so far managed to stay under 1500 kg, bringing lots of benefits but also a much rawer experience than the super fast but also super plush ride of a Chiron. The Agera set one of Koenigsegg’s most notable speed records so far, namely 0-300-0 km/h in 21 seconds, more than 10 seconds less than a Chiron, and in 2017 professional driver Niclas Lilja would set a new top speed record at 447 km/h in the Nevada desert. And then end 2019, the Agera did a 0-400-0 km/h run in 31 seconds. It’s difficult to compare these numbers in a way that really illustrates the size of the achievement, but as some kind of reference, a McLaren 720 does 0-300 km/h in 21 seconds. However, by then the Agera is already back to 0…
Koenigsegg has today established itself as one of the leading hypercar constructors in the world, going from a very small operation of about 50 people to today around 300 employees, still based in Ängelholm in Sweden. Demand has never been stronger and Koenigsegg have in total so far built around 250 cars for some 190 clients at prices from USD 1.5m and upwards (with no upper limit…). As you understand from the numbers, some owners have more than one car in their garage. Life isn’t fair…
From the mid-2010’s, Koenigsegg has kept busy. In 2014 it launched the surreal One:1, which at 1360 kg had a power output of 1 hp per kg, and at 1371 Nm, practically the same torque… In 2015, the hybrid Koenigsegg Regera (“reign” in Swedish) was launched with an 1115 hp engine and was built until 2019. In the same year the Agera was replaced by the Jesko, which takes its name from Christian’s father. As per Christian, the Jesko is the fastest car the brand will ever build. With a twin-turbo, 5-litre V8 engine producing 1622 hp (running on ethanol) and a perfect aerodynamic shape, the Jesko in the Absolut version is said to have a top speed of 531 km/h. Finding a place to test that isn’t easy, but Koenigsegg is working on it to reclaim the world’s speed record which in between has been lost to the US small-scale brand SSC.
The most exciting car in today’s line-up is however not the Jesko but rather the Gemera (“give more” in Swedish), the world’s first real four-seater hypercar, including a decent, 200-litre luggage space. Its drivetrain is highly impressive: a two-litre, three-cylinder engine producing 600 hp (!!) is combined to three electrical engines to a total power output of 1700 hp on ethanol. The company targets a production of 125 Jeskos and 300 Gemeras, which given current demand they will most certainly reach, but take a number of years to do so, as the current annual production is around 20-30 cars.
The closest I have been to a Koenigsegg was seeing an Agera at the Geneva Motor Show in 2019 and I don’t expect to come closer to one anytime soon. What I find so impressive with the company however, is the philosophy of never resorting to a less than perfect solution. If there is a piece or system available in the market Koenigsegg will be happy to buy it, but if it’s anything less than perfect, they will rather build it themselves. If you can charge your clients the kind of money the company does this is no doubt easier, but it also translates a very high ambition. It’s also truly impressive what Christian has invented and developed through the years. His technical genius combined with a pretty stunning design on most models has made Koenigsegg into a supercar company like no other. Most of us would probably have been equally impressed had the cars had a few hundred hp less, but not Christian: 27 years ago he set out to build the fastest hypercar in the world, and that’s what he’s done over and over again. If Zlatan is the God of football, then Christian is no doubt the God of hypercars!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Panamera (see here if you missed it), a family hatchback that translates the true Porsche feel as much as its format and weight allows for, and the first generation of which currently offers pretty exceptional value for money. But whereas to my mind, the Panamera is the daily driver that presents the best “price-adjusted” offer in the EUR 40-50.000 price segment, it’s not the only car out there providing a nice bridge between a word leading sports car tradition and something that actually qualifiees as (almost) reasonable with daily driving potential. This week we’ll therefore travel south from Zuffenhausen, over the Alps to Maranello, to explore Ferrari’s best offer in this regard: the splendid, 12-cylinder Ferrari FF. Just like the Panamera, in addition to all its practical benefits (and there are a lot!), it remains one hell of a car that right now offers exceptionally good value for money – albeit in a higher segment.
The FF (Ferrari Four) was presented in 2011 and built until 2016 as successor to the 612 Scaglietti, and as could be expected, it split opinions among Ferraristis right from the start. Obviously this wasn’t the first four-seater from Ferrari, but “Four” in the name also referred to this being the first four-wheel drive Ferrari in history. The system was developed by Ferrari and doesn’t weigh more than 45 kg. Without becoming too technical, a second, two-gear gearbox right over the front axle complements the main, 7-gear dual clutch box and transfers power to the front axle over two multi-plate clutches. The low weight comes at the expense of function as the system only works in gears 1-4, which doesn’t change that it’s perfectly useful for example on snow. On solid ground and in all gears, the car is otherwise rear-wheel drive, and the 45 kg are a reasonable price to pay for the increased function, although the true purists will remark that the driving experience becomes less playful than with a rear-wheel drive, “classic” Ferrari. All others will find it a true sports car to drive, also with an almost perfect 53-47% weight split (rear-front). The FF also has an adaptive suspension with five driving programs, controlled by the “manettino” on the steering wheel, and the car can and will be raised a few cm as required.
The other area of contention ten years ago was the looks. 2011 was still a few years before shooting breaks became as popular as they are today, so for most, those concerns are largely gone by now. Looking at the FF today I think it’s aged extremely well. Given we started this with a comparison with the Panamera, there’s no real contention on which one looks the best… Pininfarina has done an excellent job in a classic combination of a long front and a short, dynamic rear gives the car perfect dimensions.
All this is of course fine and good, but the most exciting part of the FF is no doubt what you find under the hood, namely a 6.3 litre, naturally aspirated V12, derived from the Enzo and the biggest V12 Ferrari had ever put into production at the time. Producing 660 hp and 683 Nm torque, those who don’t get goose bumps when it comes alive are either deaf or completely heartless. Ferrari will tell you that the incredible sound is helped by the 65-degree angle, i.e. 5 degrees more “open” than a typical V12 engine is built in. I find it hard to believe that it would have sounded much less with less of an angle though… Once alive, the incredible engine will take the FF all the way to 335 km/h, of which the first 100 km/h only need 3.7 seconds.
If this doesn’t sound like an (almost) reasonable daily driver so far, let’s look at the practical side of the FF. Firstly, it’s a true four-seater rather than a 2+2, and the rear seats are really quite comfy, even for grown-ups. Secondly they as well as the central part can be individually folded, the central part for example to transport skis. Thirdly, with all seats in place the FF offers 450 litres of luggage space, which increases to over 800 litres once the seats are folded. What Ferrari will not offer, but offer you to buy, is of course a very chic luggage set to help you make the most of that space to arrive in style! And finally the FF has a 91-litre tank, meaning you can do at least 500 km before you have to stretch your legs and admire it from the outside, which certainly won’t hurt. The quality of a daily-driver however also lies in its quality and reliability, and it’s here that the FF impresses even more. The interior looks fantastic and is well built – clearly a level above the previous generation. Guarantee and service packages when the car was new were extensive in most markets, and the quality is also proven by how unlike many other Ferraris, most FF’s have a lot of km on the clock and it’s rare to find a car that has barely been driven.
The FF offered owners a lot of options for individualization and it’s not rare to find cars that cost EUR 350.000 or more as new. This can obviously be interesting when you look to pick one up today, and if you plan on buying one and will be more than two persons using it, I would be on the lookout for the panoramic glass roof which makes the rear much lighter. Quite obviously though, the most important by far is making sure the car has been properly serviced and that both the engine and the electronics are in order. Ideally, one owner will have used the car in a way where it wasn’t his city driver and where he didn’t require assistance of the four-wheel drive system too often. If you can find that, then it’s less important if the car has 20.000 or 50.000 km on the clock. And if you know your Ferraris, there’s nothing hindering you from considering cars with even higher mileage. Those will start at EUR 90-100.000, those with less km start coming in at EUR 120-130.000, and there’s quite a few cars in the market, so realistically some negotiating potential as well. That price fall is not unique compared to other Ferrari models but at one third of the price as new, to me the FF is the one that offers the best combination of many qualities, making it an (almost) reasonable purchase, and one that will make you smile every time you turn the key!
Renault is not a brand that is featured very often on this blog given, if you allow me to be a bit harsh, it mostly consists of a bunch of boring small cars and family SUV’s, that partly have some, hmm, intersting looks (Avantime anyone?) but are never associated with any kind of thrill of driving. Yeah, I know there’s a few racier versions of the Mégane that some love, but that’s never really been my thing. What is very much my thing on the other hand, is what a crazy bunch of engineers in the French town of Dieppe, traditionally the home of Alpine, developed in the late 70’s: the Renault 5 Turbo / Turbo II. And then 20 years later, also in Dieppe, a similar (same?) group of engineers reinvented the whole concept with the Renault Clio V6. This week will therefore be the story of the two siblings with twenty years between them, but sharing the same crazy concept and making them two of the if not greatest, then at least most exciting hot hatches ever!
Turning the clock back to the late 70’s, Renault had quite a strong rally tradition and had been racing the Alpine A110 for a number of years. The car was getting old though and a replacement was needed. As always the budget was a bit tight so the project started internally using the Renault 5 as basis. The R5 had been around since 1971 so it wasn’t the most inspiring starting point, but that’s before the guys in Dieppe came into the picture and did a few rather major modifications… In becoming the R5 Turbo, the R5 not only gained 20 cm in width, the engine also moved from up front to behind the front seats, i.e. mid-mounted, and the car went from front- to rear-wheel drive. The result was a body that all of a sudden looked spectacular (and still does!), an interior that was more or less untouched and thereby an ocean of 70’s plastic, and a weight distribution that changed quite radically, with around 60% over the rear axle (counting with the driver).
As a rally car the R5 Turbo and subsequent Turbo II (built from 1983, looking the same but technically improved) saw some success. It raced in the legendary Group B until the end in 1986 and won a total of three races which could probably have been more, had it not been for the fierce competition from notably Audi and Lancia at the time. What made the legend of the car was however not its rally pedigree but rather the total of around 5.000 homologation cars, split roughly as 1/3 Turbo and 2/3 Turbo II. Back in the early 80’s, at least in France this was the really cool car to have (which was good since price-wise it was on par with true sports cars!), but it was also one that required some basic driving skills, as you’ll guess from a combination of a short wheelbase, a mid-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive! The pengine’s position helped contribute to what was a great engine tone, making the 1.4 litre, turbo-charged 4-cylinder sound like far more than it was. 160 hp was not a huge power output, but with the setup as described and an 80’s ketchup turbo lag, more power was not really necessary.
After the R5, Renault went back to its slumber and the Dieppe engineers went for a well-deserved break that lasted for around 15 years. This takes us to the late 90’s when Renault presented a study based on the Clio with a mid-mounted, V6 engine. The interest was so big that Renault decided to produce the car, this time in collaboration with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). The engineers in Dieppe were back from their break and developed what was at least in concept a true follower of the R5 Turbo. As the Turbo 20 years earlier, the Clio V6 had a considerably widened body, exactly the same boring interior as the standard Clio, rear-wheel drive and a mid-mounted engine behind the front seats. This time the engine was however a naturally aspirated V6, producing between 226-254 hp. It made the V6 only slightly quicker than the Turbo though, since the Clio also weighed i400 kg more at 1400 kg. A lot of that weight was actually not linked to the Clio being a new car but rather to the heavy modifications from converting the regular Clio to a rear-wheel drive, mid-engined two-seater.
The similarity in concept also means a certain similarity in the driving experience, even if the lack of a giant turbo gap given the Clio V6 is naturally aspirated makes it, shall we say not quite as full of surprises… What remains is however the rear-heavy weight distribution combined with a short wheelbase, so being slightly careful cerrtainly doesn’t hurt. Again, both the looks and the sound are (almost) as good as the old R5 Turbo and no doubt the Clio V6 will age as well.
Under the official, very selling name Renault Clio V6 Renault Sports, the V6 was built in two versions called phases, the first between 2001-2003 and the second until the end of production in 2005. It was thus built roughly as long as the R5 Turbo, but with only around half as many produced. That doesn’t show price-wise yet with a good Clio V6 coming in at around EUR 40-50.000 whilst the R5 Turbo / Turbo II is at least twice as much. There is no objective measure in this world that makes it rational to buy either one of them, but then again rational is boring and if that’s your philosophy, these cars are both a lot of fun and not seen on every corner.
The new Alpine A110 is being built in Dieppe since 2017, a car that I covered last summer in a post you can read here. We’ll come back to the upcoming F1 season in the coming weeks but it’s no secret that Renault’s F1 team has been renamed Alpine from this season, so there’s no doubt Dieppe is going strong with hopefully some other great cars coming out over the coming years!
A great thing with writing this blog is that whereas in some weeks I know well in advance what to write about, in others I don’t have a clue. This is a bit of a thrill since inspiration (at least so far) then comes somehow, but very rarely does it do so in such an inspired way as this week! Taking a lunch walk on Tuesday in the currently locked-down and therefore half empty city of Zurich, I turned a corner and saw something low and red that looked very much like a 60’s Ferrari but was… something else. A model name I didn’t recognize, and a logo that said Bizzarrini. I know we have some really knowledgeable readers here and as those of you familiar with Bizzarrini will know, seeing one doesn’t happen every day; nor every week, month or year! I had never seen a Bizzarrini before which is perhaps not very surprising, given the whole production of Bizzarrini automobiles in the 60’s amounted to a few dozen cars (more on that below). The 5300 GT I had in front of me looked spectacular, and when doing some research around Giotto Bizzarrini and his brand, a wonderful story of great engineering in a bygone era combined with the temper of several protagonists, including a certain Enzo Ferrari emerged. So this week will be about Giotto Bizzarrini and his cars, from the age when cars were sketched with a ruler and built with sweat rather than computers!
Giotto Bizzarrini was born in 1926 close to the port city of Livorno near Pisa in Italy, and as a young engineer started working for Alfa Romeo where he quickly made a name for himself as a very promising and talented engineer with a special love for racing cars. He was in fact so promising that the great Enzo Ferrari became aware of him and quickly recruited him, so from 1958, Giotto worked at Ferrari where he led the development of several Ferrari GT cars, notably the legendary 250 GTO. No doubt that Giotto had his career cut out for him at Ferrari had it not been for Enzo’s strong personality, Latin temper – and love for his wife Laura. Laura was not as loved by other key Ferrari employees, especially on the sales side where Ferrari’s sales manager Girolamo Gardini was getting very tired of Laura messing up his sales plans by always requesting special deliveries of race cars for personal contacts and friends. Betting on his long and successful background at the firm, Gandini together with a group of other senior executives, including Bizzarrini, one day walked into Enzo’s office and basically told him “it’s her or us”, confident Enzo would see the logic. He didn’t. Laura stayed and Enzo fired the senior executives (consisting of most of the race team at Ferrari) in what was referred to as the Palace Revolt or the Great Walkout. You’d better know what you’re doing before you mess with the boss’s wife, especially if that boss is (or rather was) Enzo Ferrari!
Giotto Bizzarrini was especially passionate about engines and before the Palace Coup had started a department within Ferrari where engines were tested and notably the Testa Rossa 3-litre engine was developed. When he left Ferrari, Giotto went on to found a company named ATS with the ambition to build a Formula 1 car (which he never did), before founding his next company called Società Autostar as a freelance design house (chassis and engines) in Livorno. One of his first clients was a a certain Ferruccio Lamborghini who was set on building a V12 engine and much like Bizzarrini, wasn’t best friends with Enzo. Bizzarrini took on the project and thus built Lamborghini’s first V12, with an architecture that was far ahead of what Ferrari was producing at the time and so powerful it had to be tuned down from its original 375 hp for street usage. This is in other words how Lamborghini’s first V12 came about, and you have to believe Giotto wasn’t too displeased to indirectly get back at Enzo…
Autostar under Bizzarrini also worked on a number of other cars, notably for Iso, another small Italian automaker from the 60’s, including the Iso Rivolta and Grifo, especially the race version of the Grifo called A3/C. For these, as well as for the later cars in the Bizzarrini name, he would however not be using that Lambo V12 but rather the small block Chevy V8 from the Corvette. Throughout his career he had developed a love for the larger volume, US engines, and even tried (unsuccessfully) to convince Ferrari to build a larger volume engine. A year later Giotto ended the collaboration with Iso, took the A3/C with him and fulfilled his dream by starting Automobili Bizzarrini Spa, where the A3/C was to become the first Bizzarrini car under the name GT 5300.
The GT 5300 was produced both in a Corsa (race) and a Strada (street) version, with a power output from the Chevy small block of between 350-400 hp. The car was front-mid-engined with the engine sitting behing the front axle, probably sharing quite a lot of heat with the passengers but above all, producing a sound out of this world… The body was a combination of aluminium and fibre glass, the rear axle was independent and brakes were inboard i.e. mounted on the axles such as to remove weight from the wheels, as notably on the Citroën SM. The box was a Chevy four-speed manual. Giotto raced the Corsa version himself notably in Le Mans, and it’s hard to believe today when you learn that doing so, he drove the car himself from Livorno to Le Mans, won his class and then drove back home!
Unfortunately, although there’s no doubt about his capabilities as an engineer, car designer or for that matter driver, Giotto Bizzarrini wasn’t very talented as a businessman. The race career never really took off, notably since Giotto didn’t have enough money to homologate the GT 5300 Corsa. Even worse, the whole company was permanently under-capitalized, the GT 5300 never became a success, and after the bankruptcy filing of the company in 1969, Giotto even admitted that he had not keep track of how many cars had been built. This is still a debated topic today. It’s clear that the GT 5300 Strada was the most popular car with presumably 50-75 cars produced. The Corsa version is estimated to have been built no more than 10 times, thus making it three times rarer than a GTO, and the following and last race car, the P 538, was only built a few times. So the total production of Bizzarrini during five years was probably no more than 100 cars. Those still in existance mostly sit in car museums (if you happen to be in LA, the Peterson Automobile Museum is said to have one) or personal collections, so I was indeed a lucky guy to see one parked in the street with the window half-opened!
I’m not a 100% sure but as late as last November Giotto was still alive, so chances are he still is, in that case 95 years old and most probably quite surprised to see the prices his cars fetch on the few occasions they change owners. A Bizzarrini would have been a great investment around 20 years ago when they traded for somewhere around USD 100.000, today you need to add a zero to that. But that’s of course not what makes the story special. Rather, it’s the story of a man who today counts as one of the gratest racing engineers ever, not only in Italy but globally, who developed Lamborghini’s first ever V12 and,who could probably have helped Ferrari became even more successful as a racing team, had Enzo had his wife and temper under control!
If you’re part of the crowd for which Porsche is equal to a 911 and you’ve looked at the 911 market lately (or for that matter at any point during the last 10 years), you’d be forgiven for thinking that unless a 911 is already safely stored in your garage, the train has left the station. But while that is indeed true in the case of classical 911’s up until the 996, it’s slightly less true for later 911’s and very much less true for the other models in the Porsche line-up, which today make up 85% of the company’s production. Today we’ll talk about one of those models, one that doesn’t receive much attention, that was always slightly controversial in terms of its looks, but also one that in its first iteration offers an unbelievable value for money whilst being capable of transporting four adults and their luggage in a way that no other family sedan can. You guessed it – this week is about the Porsche Panamera.
Porsche’s decision to start producing other models than the 911 had been taken many years before the Panamera, notably through the Cayenne in 2002. Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche’s visionary CEO at the time and until 2009, had recognized that many 911 owners also had an SUV in their garage and wanted to have a share of that market, something he definitely succeeded in given the Cayenne today makes up alomost 1/3 of Porsche’s production. But then again everyone doesn’t want an SUV and Wiedeking also saw room in the market for a sports sedan-coupé, whatever you want to call it, the development of which ran during the 2000’s with the Panamera finally being launched in 2009. Importantly Wiedeking was not only visionary but also tall, and this is where the most criticized aspect of the Panamera – its roofline – comes into play.
It is said that at the beginning of the Panamera project, Wiedeking set as a condition for the car that he, and thereby well-grown adults, should be able to sit comfortably in the backseats (which in the first generation of the car were two separate seats, whereas later versions had the option of a 3-passenger rear bench). This forced the designers to raise the roofline which is what gives the Panamera its strange profile and earned it the nickname “buckle whale” in the home market Germany. Add to that the headlights resembling the Cayenne and some slightly strange-looking backlights, and you get a car that in the eyes of most is not beautiful, but luckily has a large number of other qualities that you experience once inside – which is where you spend your time anyway.
It’s absolutely true that four adults travel in comfort in a Panamera, even when back passengers are over 180 cm. Contrary to many other coupé-GT’s the Panamera is a hatchback offering around 450 litres of luggage space, in addition to which the back seats can be folded. This is in other words a car that is fully capable of transporting not only people, but also their luggage. And if the exterior is controversial there is not much to say about the interior that is very nicely appointed and offers a true sports car feeling. Actually a 911 feeling, until you look over your shoulder and see the backseats. As so often a dark interior is to be preferred as it usually stands the test of time better – and make the few pieces of plastic that don’t have the real qualitiative look shine less.
The best part is of course the drive, which can be described as all the 911 feeling you can possibly get in a family car format. Going back to the Cayenne, it was at the launch said to convey the same 911 feeling in an SUV format, something all of us who have driven one know is not the case, as it can never be in a car riding as high as an SUV does. The Panamera is also a big car (almost five meters long and two meters wide) but it obviously rides much lower. At just under two tons it’s however no light-weight, making the driving experience even more impressive. Again, you won’t find a “family-compatible” car at an even remotedly similar price point (more on that below) that is more fun, precise and enjoyable. Two features that are important in that regard is opting for a car with PDK and if possible also air suspension which clearly enhances the ride quality.
The first generation Panamera was offered as two- or four-wheel drive with six- and eight-cylinder petrol engines and a six-cylinder diesel. There was also a six-cylinder hybrid but we’ll pass on that and the diesel here, as there is no doubt that the eight-cylinder is the engine that was intended for the car – just looking under the hood of a six-cylinder shows you that, as half the space is empty. Also, the only engine that has given rise to mechanical issues through the years is the 300 hp, petrol six-cylinder, so steer clear of it. The 400 hp Panamera S and 4S where offered along with the 500 hp double turbo Panamera Turbo from the start in 2009, and were complemented with the (naturally aspirated), 430 hp GTS and 550 hp Turbo S in 2011. Except for the “basic” 8-cylinder Panamera S, all other versions are four-wheel drive as standard and all except the S also come with a 7-speed PDK. I would go for one of those and basically let you be the judge of how much power you need. The GTS is in my view especially interesting, being a bit more unusual and the strongest of the naturally aspirated V8’s.
The reason you can be the judge of how much power you need is also that in the second-hand market, where plenty of Panameras are to be found, it doesn’t really make a difference. A budget of EUR 30.-40.000 will get you plenty of great candidates of all configurations, and neither the type of engine nor the equipment level make them differ significantly in price. You don’t even need to go back to the first model year as that budget will also be sufficient for the 2011 GTS and Turbo S with around 100.000 km on the clock. There is for example currently a fully-loaded, 100.000 km Turbo S in Switzerland in fantastic condition, that cost CHF 290.000 as new, for sale for CHF 37.000… 100.000 km is of course no issue for a Porsche V8, as long as the car has been taken care of, preferrably has had one owner and comes with a complete service history. When it comes to options, the more is generally the better but you should probably steer clear of the ceramic brakes that are supposed to hold a lifetime, but often need to be replaced already around 100.000 km or so – at a cost of half the budget given above.
So there we go – a slightly strange-, but also expensive-looking four-seater Porsche, four-wheel drive with ample luggage space that is a true joy to drive, for the same money as a diesel Passat. Come to think of it, it’s also far more enjoyable and much cheaper than a family XC90… Unfortunately the Panamera can do many things really well, but fitting a dog cage isn’t one of them, so I’ll have to pass on this one. If it wasn’t for the dog (stop looking at me like that!), a 2011-2012, well-equipped GTS with standard brakes sounds pretty unbeatable in terms of value for money!